Accusations of racism and The Bachelor go together like a confused hunk and a pile of roses in need of distribution. The Bachelor Nation flagship series has never had a lead of colour save for the white-passing Juan Pablo Galavis (who ended up being the villain of his own season). Last year’s Arie Luyendyk Jr.-lead outing dipped into the most eye roll worthy of spicy Latina stereotypes with its depiction of fan-favorite Bibiana Julian. Even Bachelorette lead Rachel Lindsay has accused producers of denying her the pure fairytale romance of her fairer-complected predecessors in favour of an Angry Black Woman narrative. Racism is a tiresome spectre that haunts the The Bachelor(ette), and it can sometimes turn especially dark (see: the DeMario Jackson-Corinne Olympios Bachelor In Paradise scandal).
But, the premiere of The Bachelor season 23 suggests the sprawling reality TV franchise might finally be ready to step away from its most racist habits. Just look at how the premiere treats breakout contestant Onyeka Ehie and her fellow women of colour.
We know The Bachelor is taking Onyeka, a darker-skinned 24-year-old daughter of Nigerian immigrants, seriously since she appears in the first five minutes of the premieres intro. That is a spot saved for the kind of women UnReal’s Quinn (Constance Zimmer) would refer to as potential “wifies.” We see Onyeka praying with her loved ones — reminding viewers this is a Dallas family that has the kind of capital-V Values they may also uphold, no matter their skin colour — and hear her Nigerian-accented dad preaching about the positives of a quick courtship. After all, the Ehie parents knew each other for just two weeks before getting engaged.
That is a lot of information to receive about a single competitor in an introduction package. Hannah Godwin couldn’t manage to get that kind of intensive coverage — and she wins the coveted first impression rose.
While Onyeka’s intro is compelling on its own, she doesn’t begin to truly shine until she makes it into the Bachelor house. During her first meeting with Colton, the risk consultant attempts to teach him her full Nigerian name, Onyekachukwu Ehie. It’s easy to imagine the kind of Bachelor editing where Onyeka's request for a wide-eyed white man like Colton to say her name properly is given a pushy spin. Instead, the former athlete is made to look like a goof when he’s unable to say the African name, even when it’s broken down syllable by syllable for him.
The Bachelor lead looks similarly dopey when a different dark-skinned woman, Tahzjuan Hawkins, makes up a cutesy pun to help Colton stumble through her name. Or when Miami-native and Latinx woman Nicole Lopez-Alvar, one of the most introverted members of the Bachelor season 23 pack, speaks Spanish to him. None of these Bachelor Nation newbies are “crazy” women of colour with unintelligible names and exotic backgrounds — Colton is simply a lovable lunk who can’t keep up.
Women of colour continue living their best lives when the episode’s villain, Fort Lauderdale DJ Catherine Agro, commits the cardinal sin of night 1: stealing the Bachelor far too many times. One “Can I borrow him for a few seconds?” is expected. Three or more is a crime against humanity and your fellow anxious contestants. Onyeka is the one with the courage to stand up to the dating show rebel with a cause (the cause is for some reason talking to Colton for more than five minutes).
Onyeka is the one who comes out of the encounter seeming deeply reasonable and kind. There’s no “sassy” yelling or threats of danger — a favourite moment for Bachelor producers to capture when dealing with women of colour. Instead, the conversation consists of Onyeka calmly explaining why “stealing” Colton multiple times is inappropriate. She’s all about honesty and respect while Catherine wraps the chat by breathing, “If you don’t have haters, you’re not doing something right.” All Onyeka can do is blink and repeat, “Haters, yep,” in the most baffled tone possible.
Although Catherine immediately ignores Onyeka's advice, and cuts in on a different Black woman to do so, at least the Texas native shared her thoughts in a constructive and memorably level-headed way. And Tahzjuan, who was rudely interrupted for Catherine's inexplicable fourth attempt at alone time with Colton, handled the situation with confused poised and grace, denying cameras any racially-flavoured catfights.
Welcome to a Bachelor era where women of colour aren’t pot stirrers, they’re ship-righters. Let’s see how long the series allows it to last.