‘The Bachelor’ Names First Black Male Lead, But ABC Reality Show Has a Long Way to Go to Truly Champion Diversity
With the Black Lives Matter movement finally taking a central role after the brutal death of George Floyd, the entertainment industry is rushing to catch up. Many producers and networks tried bringing more inclusion to TV and movies but still found themselves slipping behind in recent years.
Some examples now might ring a little hollow, especially after years of neglect. ABC’s The Bachelor is now attempting to rectify things by having its first African-American bachelor (Matt James) in the show’s history.
Is the timing on this too obvious, or did the show have it in mind before the George Floyd tragedy? Either way, even if the show’s recent casting is an attempt to take a step in the right direction, a bigger argument is now being made that The Bachelor still has a long way to go on diversifying their contestants.
A petition led to ‘The Bachelor’ choosing Matt James
An outcry over lack of diversity on The Bachelor was going on for a while until a petition began to amend the oversight. Thankfully, many former white contestants on the show spoke up about this and helped in getting the petition live online. The petition was created through Change.org, and where 50,000 people signed.
At the top of the petition was this astute opening statement: “ABC and Warner Bros. have been producing Bachelor content for 18 years. During that time they’ve cast 40 season leads, yet only one Black lead. This is unacceptable”.
Those who think petitions and boycotting do no good in our times can now look to this as how effective they really are. ABC took it to heart and started searching for a Black male lead to be on the series.
Only one Black woman ever appeared as the lead in the franchise: Attorney Rachel Lindsay on Season 13 of The Bachelorette.
What was the initial reaction to bringing Matt James aboard?
A class-action lawsuit was already filed back in 2012 by two Black men who said they were turned down for The Bachelor. News of this is not lost on many now after it seemed the show was seemingly shunning minorities.
Reaction to Matt James being picked this month has created some effusive praise on social media, if seeming like a desperation pick. He was already a part of Bachelor Nation and a friend of Tyler Cameron who participated in last season’s The Bachelorette. They both run ABC Food Tours together.
According to ABC, they had James in mind back in February already before the protests surrounding George Floyd’s death put racism and social justice on the forefront. Rather than go through an audition process, they picked someone already a part of the franchise.
Perhaps no one can argue anything wrong with that approach. Regardless, Rachel Lindsay said this in a media statement: “I would be remiss to not point out that based on the current climate, it feels like a knee-jerk reaction and a result of societal pressure”.
ABC is still promising to diversify in the future
Making up for lost time on not including minorities on The Bachelor can lead to further hard feelings from those who noted the problem years ago. Lindsay, above, recently considered leaving the ABC franchise due to the dearth of African-American leads through such a long period of time.
To counter, ABC says they plan to diversify going forward, which might seem a little too late. When society pressures a network to act, it also seems less genuine and doing it only to fill a quota.
All one can hope for is if The Bachelor holds true to their word, everyone will see it as an organic process rather than forced. The same applies to the Academy Awards attempting to do the same after years of being called out on having biased voters.
If The Bachelor is all about finding love, the casting process will have to come from the heart rather than a checkoff list. What’s more, there are many other ways ABC can prove it is devoted to diversity. For one, it shouldn’t wait for global protests to cast a person of color. It can also work on casting leads from other ethnic backgrounds and ensure the dating pool on the show is not homogenous. Lastly, when can fans expect a lead that is LGBTQ?
While The Bachelor has given a quick response to fans’ demands, most are hoping it won’t take another civil rights movement to see more change.