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Hoo, boy — this is the definition of “a lot to unpack.”
You may have heard that CBS recently announced a new series called The Activist, a competition show pitting real-life activists in the fields of health, education or the environment against each other for the chance to attend the G20 Summit and secure funding for their cause. Per Deadline, success in each of the show’s challenges will be measured by online engagement, social metrics and input from hosts Usher, Priyanka Chopra, and Julianne Hough.
The announcement was followed by an avalanche of backlash from potential audience members and fellow entertainment industry professionals alike. The Global Citizen-backed concept was described as “bleak,” “dystopian,” and “cynical,” among other negative reactions.
Couldn’t they just give the money it’s going to take to pay this UNBELIEVABLY expensive talent and make this show, directly to activist causes? Rather than turning activism into a game and then giving a fraction of the much needed money away in a “prize…?” People are dying. https://t.co/GLCUZcGgfb
— Jameela Jamil ???? (@jameelajamil) September 10, 2021
With love/ I hope @Usher @priyankachopra will sit with some activist elders and re-think the choice to make a competition activist tv show. This is poison in the well of meaningful progress by rewarding performative activism with celebrity. https://t.co/YzMWZiHwML
— RAFAEL CASAL (@RafaelCasal) September 10, 2021
This is just so incredibly bleak https://t.co/eTsr3JVbfT
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) September 9, 2021
"Combining philanthropy and entertainment, The Activist is a ground-breaking series poised to inspire viewers" is a sentence my mind reels trying to understand.https://t.co/maDbUs2Ftq
— Anand Giridharadas @ The.Ink (@AnandWrites) September 9, 2021
Not only that, but folks turned a critical eye to the celebs hosts chosen to “judge” the success of these activist competitors. People expressed particular skepticism of Julianne Hough, recalling her upsetting blackface incident in 2013 when she darkened her skin for her Orange is the New Black Halloween costume.
The Dancing with the Stars alum addressed the criticism in an Instagram post, calling the reaction “a powerful demonstration of real-time activism.” (If mere social media outcry is her definition of “activism,” then we can already see a glaring issue with the show.) She expressed gratitude to followers for “calling me in,” and claimed she was “deeply listening with an open heart and mind.”
Addressing specific issues raised about The Activist, she wrote:
“I heard you say that the show was performative, promoted pseudo-activism over real activism, felt done-deaf, like Black Mirror, The Hunger Games, and that the hosts weren’t qualified to assess activism because we are celebrities and not activists. I heard you say there was hypocrisy in the show because at the root of activism is a fight against capitalism and the trauma that it causes so many people and that the show itself felt like a shiny capitalistic endeavor. I also heard you say that trying to value one cause over another felt like the Oppression Olympics and totally missed and disrespected the many activists who have been killed, assaulted and faced various abuses fighting for their causes.”
Yeah, that’s a pretty comprehensive list!
The 33-year-old went on:
“And because of this, there is a feeling of insult, dehumanization, insensitivity and hurt that is being rightfully felt. I do not claim to be an activist and wholeheartedly agree that the judging aspect of the show missed the mark and furthermore, that I am not qualified to act as a judge. On top of this, many people are just becoming aware that I wore blackface in 2013, which only further added insult to injury.”
She then acknowledged the nearly decade-old controversy, admitting:
“Wearing blackface was a poor choice based on my own white privilege and my own white body bias that hurt people and is something I regret doing to this day. However, the regret that I live with pales in comparison to the lived experiences of so many. My commitment has been to reflect and act differently. Not perfectly, but hopefully with a more developed understanding that racism and white supremacy is harmful to ALL people.”
The Footloose star also acknowledged that there were other criticisms of herself and the show that she was surely missing, but reassured followers that she was “committed” to being present for all of the necessary “messy and uncomfortable conversation.”
So after agreeing she was unqualified, acknowledging the many, MANY issues with the show, and promising to listen and reflect — did she resign from this obviously bad idea of a series?
Unbelievably, no. Instead, Julianne tried to explain it away:
“It feels important for me to share that the original reason I signed on to this show was because I was really excited to be a part of something that highlights, and is centered around sharing activists’ work on a larger platform. In doing so, I felt it would help educate, mobilize, and inspire people around the world to get involved in activism because many worthy causes need attention, funding, and most importantly the power to effect real change.”
She even claimed that she “shared your concerns as well as my own with the powers that be, who I believe have listened” — though per Global Citizen’s statement to Deadline, they denied that the reality show would “trivialize activism” and did not indicate that anything about the format would change based on the backlash.
You wouldn’t know that from the America’s Got Talent alum’s message, though. She optimistically stated:
“I have faith and confidence in the beautiful people that I’ve worked with will make the right choice and do the right thing moving forward. Not just for the show, but for the greater good.”
“I’m going to continue to listen, unlearn, learn and take the time to be fully present with everything that you have all shared because I don’t want to just react. I want to digest, understand and respond in a way that is authentic and aligned with the woman I am becoming. I also understand that there is no response that I could share that would make everyone happy, however, I want you to know that this is a conversation and I am still listening.”
So… she’s listening, but not actually doing anything to affect any kind of change here. Actually, that’s probably a sad but accurate reflection of how activism tends to be received by people in power. Honestly, this statement is a whole lot of nothing at the end of the day — she may as well have kept quiet if she wasn’t going to propose any real change, or any good reason for this series to move forward.
But what do U think, Perezcious readers? Should Julianne have quit while she was ahead? Or do you think we should give her and the show a chance? Let us know your thoughts in the comments (below).
[Image via ATP/WENN]
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