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That misguided activist reality series has been scrapped

Producers of The Activist have reimagined the concept after widespread backlash, changing the format from a competition to a documentary special

Last week (September 10), reality TV’s hottest new show, The Activist, was announced – a competition series that pits activists against each other to find out whose cause is most worthy. As expected, the premise was widely mocked online, with people criticising the show’s distasteful commodification of activism. Now, the producers have responded to the backlash, deciding that the show will be aired as a documentary special instead.

A joint statement from CBS, Global Citizen, and Live Nation, apologised to those involved in the show, as well as to “the larger activist community”. It read: “The Activist was designed to show a wide audience the passion, long hours, and ingenuity that activists put into changing the world, hopefully inspiring others to do the same.”

“However, it has become apparent the format of the show as announced distracts from the vital work these incredible activists do in their communities every day. The push for global change is not a competition, and requires a global effort.”

The new documentary format will “showcase the tireless work of six activists and the impact they have advocating for causes they deeply believe in”. As planned in the original concept, each activist involved will receive a cash grant for the organisation of their choice.

“Activists and community leaders around the world work every day, often without fanfare, to advance protections for people, communities, and our planet,” the statement continued. “We hope that by showcasing their work, we will inspire more people to become more involved in addressing the world’s most pressing issues. We look forward to highlighting the mission and lives of each of these incredible people.”

The original show was set to be hosted by Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianna Hough, and would see six activists select a world cause from the categories health, education, and environment, and then compete to get the most social engagement. The lucky finalists were going to meet with world leaders at the G20 Summit in Rome, with the hope of securing funding for their cause.

As well as a deeply flawed premise, Hough’s involvement was particularly contentious, due to her wearing blackface for her 2013 Halloween costume, when she went as a character from Orange is the New Black

Addressing the criticism in an Instagram statement, Hough said: “I heard you say that the show was performative, promoted pseudo-activism over real activism… that 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. 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.”

She continued: “On top of all of this, many people are just becoming aware that I wore blackface in 2013, which only further added insult to injury. Wearing blackface was a poor choice based on my own white privilege and white body bias that hurt people and is something that I regret doing to this day.”

Read Hough’s full statement above, and the message from the producers below.