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Julianne Hough Responds to Backlash Surrounding ‘The Activist’: ‘I Am Not Qualified to Act as a Judge’

Julianne Hough Responds to Backlash Surrounding 'The Activist'
Julianne Hough at the 27th amfAR Gala at the 74th Cannes Film Festival in 2021. Matt Baron/Shutterstock

UPDATE 9/16/21 9:05 a.m. ET.

Amid backlash for the competition-style series, CBS announced that The Activist is being reworked.

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,” CBS and producing partners Global Citizen and Live Nation said in a statement on Wednesday, September 15. “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 statement continues: “As a result, we 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.”

Original story below:

Listening and learning. Julianne Hough spoke out following the criticism surrounding The Activist, the upcoming CBS reality competition series that she will serve as a judge on alongside Priyanka Chopra-Jonas and Usher.

The series will follow six activists teamed with three high-profile figures working together “to bring meaningful change to one of three urgent universal causes: health, education and the environment,” according to the Thursday, September 9, announcement. However, the news caused a great deal of backlash.

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Five days later, the pro dancer, 33, shared a lengthy statement via Instagram, addressing the different feedback she saw — including some that claimed the show shouldn’t have celebrities as judges, but instead real 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,” the Dancing With the Stars alum wrote on Tuesday, September 14. “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. 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.”

The Safe Haven star also responded to those who brought up her 2013 photos of her in blackface makeup at a Halloween party, an incident she has previously apologized for.

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“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,” Hough continued. “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.”

In her statement, the Kinrgy founder explained that she joined the show to “be a part of something that highlights, and is centered around sharing activists’ work on a larger platform,” and has shared the concerns she’s heard with “the powers that be” at the network and studio.

“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,” the Rock of Ages star wrote. “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.”

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Although Hough stated that there’s “no response that I could share that would make everyone happy,” she is paying attention to everyone’s voices, adding, “I am still listening because this is a messy and uncomfortable conversation, and I’m committed to being here for all of it.”

After the series’ pickup was met with backlash, the producers, Global Citizen, released a statement.

The Activist spotlights individuals who’ve made it their life’s work to change the world for the better, as well as the incredible and often challenging work they do on the ground in their communities,” a spokesperson told Deadline on September 9. “This is not a reality show to trivialize activism. On the contrary, our aim is to support activists everywhere, show the ingenuity and dedication they put into their work, and amplify their causes to an even wider audience.”

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