The upcoming CBS show The Activist, that was announced last week as a competition show with Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Usher, and Julianne Hough as hosts, will be reimagined as a primetime documentary special, the makers said on Wednesday. The news comes in the wake of severe online backlash over the show’s original concept.
While the show was earlier slated to premiere on October 22, the statement from the makers notes that a new air date will be announced.
The Activist was supposed to feature pairs of activists from the sectors of health, education, and the environment competing for a chance to present their cause at the G20 summit in Italy.
While the makers claimed that the show was aimed at spreading awareness about real issues, the announcement did not go over well with netizens, who called it out for pitting activists against one another for the purpose of entertainment and monetary gains.
Consequently, CBS along with partners Global Citizen and Live Nation released a statement on Wednesday acknowledging their misstep. “Global activism centres on collaboration and cooperation, not competition. We apologise to the activists, hosts, and the larger activist community – we got it wrong,” they said.
The statement further added that the makers are “changing the format to remove the competitive element and reimagining the concept into a primetime documentary special (air date to be announced). It will showcase the tireless work of six activists and the impact they have advocating for causes they deeply believe in. Each activist will be awarded a cash grant for the organization of their choice, as was planned for the original show.”
It is unclear if Chopra, Usher, and Hough will continue with the project. Critics of the original concept had also raised issue with the fact that the show was going to be hosted by three non-activist privileged people.
Of the three, Hough released an apology statement on Instagram on Wednesday, that highlighted the complaints against the show and its hypocrisy. “I heard you say that the show was performative, promoted pseudo-activism over real activism, felt tone-deaf, like Black Mirror, The Hunger Games, and that the hosts weren’t qualified to assess activism because we are celebrities and not activists,” she wrote.
“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,” she added.
Speaking about her association with the show, she said, “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.”
Noting that she did not “have all the answers yet” to the questions raised, she added that she had shared people’s concerns as well as her own with the “powers that be.”
Hough’s controversial use of blackface in 2013 also resurfaced amidst the backlash against The Activist. Addressing this, she said she regretted her what she did then to this day, and stated that it was a poor choice based on her own “white privilege and white body bias that hurt people.”