CBS Will Now Turn Its Controversial Activist Competition Series Into A Documentary

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Updated September 16, 2021: After a wave of backlash followed the announcement of its controversial new series, CBS is going back to the drawing board to reshape The Activist for its audience.
When the show was first announced, the public's reaction to it was swift and overwhelmingly negative, with many online finding its premise in bad taste; exactly what good could come from commodifying activism? Just days after sharing that the show had been green-lit, the team behind The Activist has taken the criticism to heart and is now switching things up, turning what was to be a particularly problematic game show into a documentary.
Though filming for The Activist had already begun, the series footage has been scrapped, and new production will focus on highlighting the important work being done by the activists who were initially set to compete on the show. Their stories will be shared in a one-time documentary special to air on CBS, a move that will hopefully elevate their unique causes and celebrate their contributions to the community.
"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," said CBS, Global Citizen, and Live Nation in an official joint statement regarding the decision to change the show's format. "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."

"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)," the statement continued. "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."

"Activists and community leaders around the world work every day, often without fanfare, to advance protections for people, communities, and our planet. We hope that by showcasing their work we will inspire more people to become more involved in addressing the world’s most pressing issues. We look forward to highlighting the mission and lives of each of these incredible people."
Global Citizen also issued a separate statement on the changes to The Activist, asserting its dedication to uplifting the community and apologizing for the misstep.
"Global activism centres on collaboration and cooperation, not competition," said the advocacy organization. "We apologize to the activists, hosts, and the larger activist community — we got it wrong."
"It is our responsibility to use this platform in the most effective way to realize change and elevate the incredible activists dedicating their lives to progress all around the world."
This story was originally published on September 10, 2021.
The word “activism brings to mind movements that bring about social and political change for the masses. It’s protesting, it’s organizing, and for many Black activists and activists of colour worldwide, it can be treacherous and deadly work. Competition shows, on the other hand, often incite drama, sensationalism, and over-the-top theatrics. Now, whether we want it or not, the two are about to merge. 
CBS just announced a new competition series called The Activist, a five-week reality show that will have six activists literally perform activism in competition with each other to win money for their causes: health, education, and the environment. Produced by the Melbourne-founded NGO Global Citizen and hosted by celebrities Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough, the series will determine winning activists based on “online engagement, social metrics, and the hosts’ input.” The ultimate goal is for the activists to attend the G20 Summit in Italy, presenting their causes to world leaders. Whoever acquires the most funding for their cause wins the competition.
The Twitter backlash to the announcement was immediate, from concerns about the continued commodification of activism by celebrities and corporations to the controversial organization Global Citizen producing the show. 
The ratio of the original tweet from Deadline was bad enough, with only 350 likes and over 2,000 quote tweets bashing the idea, but the ratio for FilmUpdates’ tweet (they also shared the news) has a whopping 27,000 quote tweets. The jokes, anger, and disgust by the show’s premise are apparent, with people asking whether it’s more ethical and logical for donors to fund solutions to social problems directly instead of forcing activists to perform for a global audience.
Global Citizen has long since been criticized for its past efforts to gamify activism and cater to the comfort of the rich and powerful. The Activist is just the organization’s latest effort. Meanwhile, activism can cost people their lives
Blindspotting actor and producer Rafael Casal said as much in a Twitter thread addressed to the show's hosts, Usher, Priyanka Chopra and Julianne Hough, asking them to reconsider their further involvement and promotion of the show. “There are those who have dedicated their lives and assumed the necessary sacrifices to refer to themselves as activists - artists who court the profits of capitalism are not among them,” Casal tweeted. 
He went on to say that celebrities are not making the sacrifices actual activists are making and are therefore in no position to judge that work “[a]nd most certainly are in no position to profit from it.”
Activism is about communities working together to bring about social change, not competing against each other in a literal Oppression Olympics. Celebritizing activism only aims to platform individuals over issues and detracts from countless grassroots activists doing the work on the ground. 
As with all capitalist endeavours, the bottomline will determine the fate of this show. Will viewers hate-watch when it premieres in October? Time will tell.
Refinery 29 Unbothered reached out to representatives of CBS, Global Citizen, Usher, Priyanka Chopra and Julianne Hough for comment and will update this story should they respond.

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