Julianne Hough knows you already hate ‘The Activist.’ And she welcomes the backlash

 Julianne Hough wears dangling earrings and an embroidered blouse to a premiere.
Actor and dancer Julianne Hough attends the 2019 premiere of Dolly Parton’s “Heartstrings” in Tennessee.
(Jason Kempin / Getty Images for Netflix)

Actor and dancer Julianne Hough does not “claim to be an activist.” So why did she agree to cohost a reality-TV show about activism?

On Tuesday, Hough embraced the “powerful” backlash to CBS’ forthcoming series “The Activist” and explained her decision to join Usher and Priyanka Chopra Jonas as emcees of the competition program, which will pit six activists against each other “to promote their causes.”

“It feels important for me to share that the original reason I signed on to this show was because I was really excited to be a part of something that highlights, and is centered around sharing activists’ work on a larger platform,” Hough wrote in a statement shared on Instagram.

“In doing so, 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 important, the power to effect real change.”


When CBS unveiled plans for the widely scrutinized project last week, Twitter users deemed the show’s premise “gross,” “incredibly corny,” “dreadful,” “literal performance activism” and “everything that is wrong with society.”

The thought of watching grassroots change-makers compete before a panel of rich and famous judges — who have the means to make charitable donations easily and generously — in hopes of securing support and funds for their organizing efforts made social media collectively cringe.

“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,” Hough wrote in response to the outrage.

“I heard you say 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 and that the show itself felt like a shiny capitalistic endeavor.”

‘The Activist,’ CBS’ new reality series hosted by Usher, Priyanka Chopra and Julianne Hough, will see various activists compete for their causes.

Sept. 10, 2021

While picking the CBS press release apart last week, several condemned the idea of the show’s participants going “head-to-head in challenges to promote their causes, with their success measured via online engagement, social metrics, and hosts’ input.”


Hough thanked her critics for their “voices” and “candor,” and committed to “listening with an open heart and mind.”

“I also heard you say that trying to value one cause over another felt like the Oppression Olympics and totally ... disrespected the many activists who have been killed, assaulted, and faced various abuses fighting for their causes,” she said.

“Because of all 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 ... I am not qualified to act as a judge.”

While shooting a live episode of “Dancing With the Stars,” Julianne Hough felt sharp, stabbing pains in her pelvic area.

April 27, 2018

While vehemently objecting to Hough’s new gig, many also called out the “Dancing With the Stars” alum — again — for wearing blackface as part of a Halloween costume in 2013.

Though Hough apologized for the offense at the time, some argued the incident should be enough to disqualify her from getting involved in anything related to social justice.

“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,” Hough said in her Tuesday statement.

“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.”

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Aug. 7, 2013

At the end of her lengthy message, Hough said she has relayed the public’s concerns to “the powers that be” at CBS and has “full faith and confidence [that] the beautiful people” attached to the project “will make the right choice and do the right thing moving forward.”

Hough’s costars, Usher and Chopra Jonas, have not publicly addressed the uproar. CBS did not immediately respond Wednesday to The Times’ request for comment. At press time, “The Activist” is still set to premiere Oct. 22.

“I’m going to continue to listen, unlearn, learn and take all the time to be fully present with everything that you have all shared because I don’t want to just react,” Hough continued.

“I want to digest, understand and respond in a way that is authentic and aligned with the woman I am becoming.”