Is The Bachelor Playing On Racist Latina Stereotypes?

Photo: Courtesy of Craig Sjodin/ABC.
If you’ve seen UnReal, it’s difficult to watch The Bachelor without its dark, fictionalized satire lurking in the back of your mind. The Lifetime drama suggests there are infinite little machinations at work behind the scenes of dating shows, many of which begin before filming even starts. All those little tweaks and nudges and manipulations supposedly lead contestants to become the characters producers want them to be, which creates the blow-out moments synonymous with shows like The Bachelor. You know, blow-out moments like Monday’s “mic drop” verbal battle royale between Bibiana Julian and Krystal Nielson.
While watching those two women feud over former race car driver Arie Luyendyk Jr., it was hard not to feel like there was a headshot of Bibiana in some production office with the descriptor “fiery Latina” scrawled over her face. We’re only in The Bachelor “Week 2” and it certainly seems the executive assistant, who hails from America’s most arguably Latin-influenced city, Miami, is getting the kind of tired, stereotypical edit we should be well past in season 22.
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The “drama” of Bibiana begins long before her eventual blow up at the episode-ending rose ceremony cocktail party. Rather, the seeds are sown during the post-group date cocktail party — very different — where she is determined to get some well-deserved one-on-one time with the Bachelor. Despite the fact Bibiana seems to be the one who created the “Can I steal him?” order, she apparently ends up dead last on the reception list. How such a fate befell her, we will never know.
So, we get an edit of Bibiana slowly going mad as blonde white woman after brunette white woman goes in front of her. Bibiana’s slowly enraged face is cut in between countless shots of smiling ombre-haired ladies twirling around Arie. Because, you see, unlike those ladies, Bibiana is angry.
By the absolute end of the evening, an over-it Biana announces she’s “done” with dog-and-pony show of trying to get Arie’s attention. So, Caroline and Annalise attempt to calm Bibiana down, because she’s not like the rest of the participants — she’s fiery, remember? While both Caroline and Annalise, white women, seem like the reasonable parties, Bibiana, with that unmistakable Miami accent, is refusing their hugs and storming out of the room, yelling, “Nobody fucking touch me. And you guys fucking follow me with this damn camera, I swear to God.”
Was Bibiana forced to say such a prickly thing? No, but quite a few buttons were pushed to bring out that kind of “attitude,” to use Caroline’s word. “Attitude,” for the record, is the type of word that is more often than not solely thrown at women of color when they’re honest.
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While it already felt like some subliminal control from above was afoot during the first cocktail party — “It was one thing after another” Bibiana complains in voiceover — tensions are pushed to their extreme before the rose ceremony. She already goes in obsessed with time, so her elbows are effectively up against her competitors. The locus of her date-related stress falls on petite, blonde Krystal, who already already has a rose but has horned in on one of Arie’s mini dates . While the Montana-bred fitness instructor’s West Coast-inflected voice hides any villainous intentions, Bibiana rages in a confessional interview, “I think you’re a selfish bitch, and if I don’t get my time, it’ll be a shitshow.”
Interestingly, none of the other, largely blonde, contestants are quizzed on their angry opinions at this time.
After all of this anxiety, Bibiana finally gets her time alone with Arie. Just as the real estate broker begins his classic move of distracting women with polite conversation while simultaneously rubbing their knee-to-thigh area (a pillow-lipped kiss usually follows), none other than Krystal interrupts to “slip in for a moment.” Bibiana denies Krystal's request, an action rarely, if never, taken in The Bachelor. Knowing the edit Bibiana is already getting — of being anxious to the point of hostility over her time with Arie — no one can convince me Krystal’s stunt wasn’t prompted by some producer interference. It’s not like she didn’t already have a chance to stare into Arie’s blue eyes earlier, following her first barge-in.
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When Krystal returns to the coterie of waiting fellow competitors following her stilted conversation with Arie, Bibiana fully transforms into the fiery Latina she has been set up to become. The kind of woman of color made up of “spice” and a “temper,” who “tells it like it is,” no matter how harsh it sounds or who’s listening. It’s not her fault she’s like that, though, because who can escape that hot Latin blood pumping through their veins that’s cultivated in far-off, exotic lands south of the Equator? Eye rolls all around.
Somehow, out of all the seats available in the Bachelor mansion, Krystal makes a B-line for the one next to an irritated Bibiana. In the ensuing war of words, as Krystal continuously defends herself with flimsy, even-toned excuses, Bibana’s voice begins to escalate until she’s yelling. “Baby girl, it’s not about about checking,” she explains. “If I’m trying to talk to my man, you need to back the fuck up.” Eventually, a classic neck roll is added as Bibiana adds “Check on me? What? You need to check yourself first … There’s a lot of angry people here, and I’m just the voice.” Although it's likely true Krystal's behavior upset many other contestants, yet again, we only see Bibana’s unbridled anger; everyone else is all blank faces and silence.
While most of the Bachelor Nation Twittersphere applauded her candor, it’s not hard to imagine the Bachelor’s famed “conservative” core viewership clutching their pearls over this young woman of color’s bold statements. You can practically hear them point out the fact Midwestern-born Krystal never raised her own voice, but Bibiana went and started cussing. After all, the most successful ladies of color, like Bachelorette star Rachel Lindsay, won hearts by playing to accent-free respectability politics, not an expert use of the F-bomb.
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We can pretend this all exists outside of the lens of race, but Bibiana’s first word out of the limo last week, always a heavily producer-orchestrated event, was, “Hola.” The Bachelor is literally leading with the Latina’s background here.
Although this racialized tension isn’t as uncomfortably obvious in Arie’s season as it was between Kenny King and Lee Garrett, of well-known racist tweets, during the first Black-led Bachelorette run, it doesn't mean it’s not problematic. At least during the Rachel Lindsay season, the cast was forced to grapple with the insidious underpinning of Lee’s behavior.
Since this Bachelor knot is much less obvious, no such critical eye has been cast on on Bibiana’s storyline and its subsequent for-TV edit — that is, until now.
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