Julianne Hough Addresses 2013 Blackface Controversy in Response to Backlash for The Activist

Julianne Hough said she lives with "regret" over making the "poor choice" to wear blackface in 2013, when she dressed as an Orange is the New Black character for Halloween.

By Lindsay Weinberg Sep 16, 2021 2:26 AMTags
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UPDATE: In response to fan criticism, Global Citizen, CBS and Live Nation released a statement on Sept. 15 announcing they are removing the competitive element of The Activist and "reimagining the concept" into a primetime documentary special. 

"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," reads the statement, obtained by E! News. 

The companies said it "has become apparent" the original format of the show "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." 

Global Citizen shared an additional statement acknowledging that "global activism centers on collaboration and cooperation, not competition." 

The advocacy org went on, "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."

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The documentary's air date is not yet determined.


Julianne Hough agrees she's not "qualified" to host a show about activism. 

The Dancing With the Stars judge has addressed fan backlash after she was announced as one of the judges for CBS' new show The Activist, along with Usher and Priyanka Chopra. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the show will see activists "compete in missions, media stunts, digital campaigns and community events" in order to "bring meaningful change to one of three urgent universal causes: health, education and the environment."

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On Tuesday, Sept. 14, Julianne wrote on Instagram that she does "not claim" to be an activist and "wholeheartedly" agrees that the judging aspect of the show "missed the mark." She added, "I am not qualified to act as a judge." 

In her admission, she also said she regrets making the "poor choice" of wearing blackface in 2013, when she dressed as Orange is the New Black character Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren (played by Uzo Aduba on the Netflix show) for Halloween.

"Many people are just becoming aware that I wore blackface in 2013, which only further adding insult to injury," Julianne wrote. "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 said she has been committed "to reflect and act differently," saying, "Not perfectly, but hopefully with a more developed understanding that racism and white supremacy is harmful to ALL people." 

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The dancer, who recently played Sandy in Grease Live!, explained the "original reason" she signed onto the show in the first place. She said she was "really excited" to highlight activists' work on a larger platform. "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 importantly, the power to effect real change," she wrote.

Julianne acknowledged that fans thought The Activist was "performative, promoted pseudo-activism over real activism, felt tone-deaf" and earned comparisons to Black Mirror and The Hunger Games. The Emmy winner reiterated that the hosts weren't qualified to assess activism "because we are celebrities and not activists."

She continued, "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."

After Julianne wore blackface for Halloween eight years ago, her brother Derek Hough told E! News she was "mortified" by the backlash. "She's so apologetic. She's so so sorry and I just hope that we can all forgive her and move on," he said at the time.

Uzo responded to the costume as well, telling E! News in November 2013, "I think maybe it was an unfortunate event, but she apologized and I feel like we can all move on." 

Social media users resurfaced the offensive photo in recent days, following her casting on the social justice competition. One fan tweeted, "are we just supposed to forget that julianne hough literally did blackface??"

E! News has reached out to reps for Usher and Priyanka Chopra, as well as CBS, for comment.