Producers have described it as an exciting new twist on reality TV: an X-Factor-style competition between campaigns that will give them the chance to lobby world leaders at the G20.
But The Activist, a show announced last week by the American network CBS, has already learned at its price that popular power can be unpredictable, ruthless and highly effective.
Amid a protest storm over the show’s concept of a “dystopian” celebration of “Insta activism”, one of the celebrities who lined up to judge the competition has admitted that the show “missed the mark” and that she is not qualified for her role on it – not least because she once wore blackface for Halloween.
Julianne Hough, a dancer and actress known for judging Dancing with the Stars and America’s Got Talent, said the explosion of criticism had been “a powerful demonstration of real-time activism.”
“I heard you say that the show was performative, alien pseudo-activism rather than real activism, felt tone deaf … and that the hosts were not qualified to rate activism because we are celebrities and not activists,” she said on a Instagram statement Wednesday.
Hough added: “I have also heard you say that trying to value one cause over another felt like an OL of oppression and totally missed and respected the many activists who have been killed, assaulted and faced with various abuses. who are fighting for their causes.
“I do not claim to be an activist and wholeheartedly agree that the judging aspect of the show missed the mark, and moreover, that I am not qualified to act as a judge.”
Co-produced by Global Citizen, an international advocacy organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty, the show will feature six activists who team up with high-profile mentors and then fight to fight for a specific cause of “meaningful change.”
The participants, who will not only be judged on their ideas, but their online engagement and social metrics, will attend the G20 summit in Italy in October, where, according to the press release, they will try to secure “funding and invaluable attention for their causes”.
“The Activist is a first of its kind competition series that will inspire real change as the series progresses from the US to Rome to the activists’ last challenge at the G20,” said Hugh Evans, CEO and co-founder of Global Citizen.
“The public will see the activists’ passion and commitment to their causes tested as they ask world leaders to take urgent action to address the interconnected crises we face.”
As the setback has grown, Global Citizen has sought to downplay criticism, insisting the show will not “trivialize” activism. “On the contrary, our goal is to support activists everywhere, show the ingenuity and dedication they put into their work, and reinforce their causes to an even wider audience,” a spokesman told Deadline.
Others disagree. On Twitter the British activist Gina Martin said the concept was “the absolute worst”.
“1. Why the hell do they judge this 2. Why the hell is there a TV show that turns an activist into a competition when the whole * essence * [sic] of activism is solidarity and community, ”she added.
Author Stephanie Yeboah described the idea as “really awful”. “A reality competition show about who might be the next Insta activist? It is performative at best, and does some of the hard work that many grassroots organizations do on the ground on a daily basis. Rough, ”she added.
Many critics turned their anger on celebrity judges: Hough, singer Usher and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, the former Miss World and Bollywood became Hollywood stars.
“Couldn’t they just give the money it takes to pay for this INCREDIBLY expensive talent and make this show, directly for activist causes?” tweeted actress Jameela Jamil. “Instead of turning activism into a game and then giving away a fraction of the much needed money in a ‘prize …?’ People are dying. ”
Further disbelief came from those who pointed out that Hough had used blackface for a Halloween costume depicting a character from the drama Orange Is The New Black, in 2013. She apologized at the time, but has now done so again in response to fresh criticism from those who felt she was unfit for The Activist.
“On top of all this [criticism of the show], many people are just starting to realize that I wore blackface in 2013, which only further added insult to injury. Wearing blackface was a bad choice based on my own white privilege and white bodily disorder that hurt people and that is something I regret that I did to this day, ”she said.
Global Citizen has been contacted for comment.