How Is The Bachelor Franchise Protecting Its Diverse Contestants From Racism?

From Brooke Blurton being told she’s “too pretty to be an Aboriginal” to Vanessa Sunshine being asked to “Fuck off, go back to China”, previous contestants of The Bachelor have been vocal about the racism they faced on social media after appearing on the reality TV series.
For others, facing racial microaggressions began earlier: during filming. Take Areeba Emmanuel for instance. Last year viewers witnessed the woman of Pakistani descent have her name mocked and purposely mispronounced as ‘abracadabra’ by a white contestant. 
Competition on set and public critique may come with the territory on reality TV, but don't networks and producers have a responsibility to protect their cast from racism on set, and provide mental health support to those who face it after the show airs?
Network Ten
Jimmy Nicholson and the cast of The Bachelor Australia 2021
According to Sri Lankan Australian Niranga Amarasinghe, an on-set psychologist was easily accessible to him and fellow contestants during the filming of The Bachelorette in 2019 and Bachelor in Paradise in 2020.
“We could also talk to the executive producer whenever we wanted to if there were major concerns like racism,” he told Refinery29 Australia.
While the cast can speak to a nominated psychologist for up to a year after filming, he claimed that support with social media was limited after he finished filming. 
“There weren’t many options available,” he said. “We had the option of handing our Instagram over to the publicity team. I believe this year it’s not an option, and you have to give your social media accounts over to them.” 
While Network 10 hadn’t confirmed its social media policy to Refinery29 Australia at the time of publication, it’s apparent that contestants may not be in complete control of their Instagram accounts in 2021. Each bachelorette’s bio on the social media platform indicates that a “third party” has been managing the accounts since early July. The reason for this isn’t clear. 
Network 10
First Nations contestant Renee Barrett and Sri Lankan Australian contestant Niranga Amarasinghe on Bachelor In Paradise 2020
A former Australian reality TV producer who has previously worked on The Bachelor spoke to Refinery29 Australia on the condition of anonymity, and echoed Niranga’s claims of limited social media support for contestants experiencing racism in the past. 
“When it comes to social media, there wasn't any official support in place to protect contestants from racism specifically post-filming,” the producer told Refinery29 Australia.
“There needs to be a more experienced internal team dealing with contestants post-show, as they've always been left to just cop it during the airing,” they said. “Things like training at the network around racism, misogyny and bigotry would always be beneficial for any team working on a reality drama.” 
These issues are not unique to The Bachelor franchise, with contestants from other reality dating shows having faced racism during and after filming.
Cynthia Taylu, who appeared on Love Island Australia in 2019, said she was consulted by producers and support staff about mental health concerns before entering the villa, but strategies to deal specifically with potential racism didn't come up.
"When I was on set and before the show, racism wasn't really something that was discussed that much. We definitely had a conversation about mental health but we didn't chat about racism," Taylu told Refinery29 Australia.
Cynthia, who was born in Liberia, west Africa, claimed she heard a co-star make "passing comments" she considered racist while she was on the show.
"At the time, I didn't really stand up for myself," she said. "There was one particular cast member who would make comments off-camera. I felt extremely uncomfortable around this particular girl."
While the remarks weren't specifically directed towards Cynthia or were "said in the form of a joke", they made her feel uncomfortable nonetheless.
"I felt quite isolated at times on the show and because of this I definitely second-guessed myself," she said. "I thought I was making things up in my head and reading into things a bit too much."
When filming ended, Cynthia spoke to the provided psychologist and racism was discussed.
"I remember when I got off the show and spoke to the psychologist, he did warn me to expect people were going to be racist towards me. But nothing really could have prepared me for the severity of racism I received.
"I did experience racism [online]. I only really spoke about it to my family and friends as it took me a long time to process what had happened. The show definitely let everyone know that we could reach out to them if we were being trolled, but I really just processed it on my own."
Michelle Rae is the Director of the Equity section of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEEA), the Australian trade union for the media, entertainment, sports and arts industries. She said that contestants must be protected from harassment, including racism, during filming as they would in any other workplace. 
“Contestants in reality TV are not seen as performers but are still employees,” Rae said in a statement to Refinery29 Australia. “They have a right to a safe workplace and that workplace should be culturally competent, free from harassment and bullying.”
Network 10
Former Bachelor contestant Brooke Blurton will be The Bachelorette in 2021
While social media training may already be provided to supporting staff, Rae recommended organisations similarly train reality show contestants. 
“MEAA believes that there is a need for producers to ensure cast (whether a performer or contestant) need to be trained in social media and offer mental health assistance to deal with the platforms and the cost of interaction,” she said.
In a statement provided to Refinery29 Australia, a Network 10 spokesperson said a psychologist was available to all contestants for mental health support.
“As part of the show’s duty of care, all The Bachelor participants have full access to mental health professionals as well as support from Warner Bros. Australia and Network 10 teams," read the statement.
While Jimmy Nicholson’s season of The Bachelor has only just begun airing on TV, he faced a wave of negative social media comments about his appearance as early as March, when he was announced as Australia’s first POC bachelor since Blake Garvey in 2014.
Now that the series is underway, and with Indigenous woman Brooke Blurton leading The Bachelorette later in the year, let’s hope that culturally diverse cast members feel adequately protected by networks and producers going forward.

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