Reality series 'The Activist' to be turned into documentary after backlash

The project, which featured Usher, Julianne Hough and Priyanka Chopra Jonas as hosts, was initially envisioned as a five-episode series

Competitive series The Activist, which pits social activists against one another for an opportunity to lobby G20 leaders, is being reinvented as a one-off documentary after facing criticism for its "performative" premise.

The CBS project was initially envisioned as a five-episode series and was scheduled to be released in October.

However, after Usher, Julianne Hough and Priyanka Chopra Jonas were announced as the show’s hosts last week, the series came under fire for its contentious nature, as well as its choice of judges.

Over the course of five weeks, competing activists were set to go head-to-head in challenges to promote their causes, with their success measured via online engagement, social metrics and the hosts’ input.

The three teams were then set to head to the G20 Summit in Rome, where they would meet world leaders in the hope of securing funding for their causes.

However, The Activist will now be released as a one-time documentary special with filming expected to begin anew.

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 said in a joint statement with producing partners Live Nation and Global Citizen.

“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 documentary, the statement said, will showcase the 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 organisation of their choice, as was planned for the original show.”

Among the original show’s detractors was British activist and author Gina Martin, who called the show “the absolute worst".

“Why are they judging this,” she wrote on Twitter. “Why is there a TV show that turns activism into a competition when the whole essence of activism is solidarity and community.”

Author Stephanie Yeboah said the concept of the project was “truly horrific".

"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.”

One of the show’s former hosts also responded to the criticism. US actress and dancer Hough, known for judging America’s Got Talent and Dancing with the Stars, shared a statement on her Instagram, saying: “The last few days have been a powerful demonstration of real-time activism."

“Thank you for using your voices, calling me in, your accountability and your candour,” she wrote. “I am deeply listening with an open heart and mind.”

The controversy prompted many to revisit the outcry over Hough’s 2013 Halloween blackface costume. The Safe Haven actress admitted she was not fit to be a judge on the show and that wearing blackface “was a poor choice based on my own white privilege".

Hough said she had shared concerns with “the powers that be” and that she has “faith and confidence in the beautiful people that I've worked with will make the right choice and do the right thing moving forward. Not just for the show, but for the greater good.”

Updated: September 16th 2021, 9:54 AM