Julianne Hough addresses ‘The Activist’ reality-show backlash, past blackface controversy

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Last week, the “Safe Haven” actress was announced as co-host of the CBS reality series alongside Priyanka Chopra and Usher. “The Activist,” premiering Oct. 22, will feature six activists who compete to make a difference in health, education, or the environment, according to CBS.

But the show is receiving criticism from fans who described the concept as “performative.”

“This is truly horrific, lol. A reality competition show on who can be the next Insta-activist? It’s performative at best, and kinda makes light of the hard work a lot of grassroots organisations do on the ground, on a daily basis,” wrote user @StephanieYeboah.

“Despite robust discussions about the emptiness of performative activism last summer, CBS and (its partner) Global Citizen still decided to move forward with The Activist and that just really shows where their priorities lie. It’s all about perception and appearances rather than reality,” user @cacarusoo added.

Hough addressed fans’ concerns in a lengthy Instagram statement Tuesday.

“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,” she wrote. (CBS says the competitors’ success is measured “via online engagement, social metrics and hosts’ input.”)

However, she acknowledged that she doesn’t “claim to be an activist and wholeheartedly” agrees “that the judging aspect of the show missed the mark, and furthermore, that I am not qualified to act as a judge.”

Hough then addressed her own controversial past, in which she wore blackface while dressing as Uzo Aduba’s “Orange Is the New Black” character, known as “Crazy Eyes,” for Halloween in 2013. 

“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,” she wrote. “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.”

Hough said she signed on to “The Activist” to “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.

“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,” Hough wrote. “Not just for the show, but for the greater good.”

Hough previously addressed the blackface controversy when she first apologized in October 2013.

“I am a huge fan of the show ‘Orange is the New Black,’ actress Uzo Aduba, and the character she has created. It certainly was never my intention to be disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way. I realize my costume hurt and offended people and I truly apologize,” Hough tweeted at the time.

A month later, Aduba responded to Hough’s apology in an interview with E! News. 

“I think maybe it was an unfortunate event, but she apologized and I feel like we can all move on,” she said at the time.

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