Great First Step, The Bachelor — Now Make It Matter Long Term

Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
The first Black Bachelor has been named and yet it feels so… anticlimactic. Is it a good thing that The Bachelor finally has a Black lead after 18 years? Yes. Is it hard to be thrilled as a Black fan when the franchise has had only one other Black lead, and the excitement is eclipsed by the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic? Is it even harder knowing that the casting was blatantly only announced now thanks to the pressure of a huge societal upheaval demanding that Americans address the continued unequal treatment of Black people? Also, yes. This isn’t the complete and total victory that some fans would like it to be.
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Naming Matt James as the first Black Bachelor is a great initial step for the franchise, but so was naming a Black Bachelorette three years ago, and we’ve seen how that turned out. Five seasons of The Bachelor and Bachelorette have aired since Rachel Lindsay became the first — and only — Black Bachelorette, and they’ve all had white leads. Plus, the contestants from each season have continued to be mostly white — especially the ones given the most screen time. Peter Weber’s season featured roughly two-thirds white contestants — which is a start for diversifying the historically white franchise  — while Hannah Brown’s featured eight non-white men in a group of 30. The Bachelor also ignored fans’ campaigns to get Mike Johnson from Hannah’s season as the 2020 lead while continuing to cast problematic contestants like Victoria Fuller from Weber’s season, who famously posed for an offensive modelling campaign.
So, while naming James the Bachelor is a good thing, it absolutely must not be the only thing the franchise does to better itself. And it’s far from the only thing the creators of the Change.org petition A Campaign For Anti-Racism in the Bachelor Franchise are asking for. The petition, which has nearly 100,000 signatures at the time of publication, lists 13 actions the franchise should take, from casting at least 35% non-white contestants to pledging to donate to a fund that supports anti-racist work. Lindsay also shared the steps she thinks the franchises should make, including the producers “mak[ing] a statement acknowledging their systemic racism” in a blog post on her website.
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To create major and lasting effects on future seasons, the series has a lot of work to do and a lot of history to contend with. Here are four very simple, highly actionable places to start:
Cast Contestants Who Are Actually Interested In Dating Outside Their Race
When Sean Lowe’s season aired in 2013, the increased diversity of the contestants was apparent. This was because Sean told producers he was attracted to women of all races and had dated outside of his race before. In the end, he ended up with his now-wife Catherine Giudici, a Filipino woman, who thought she was there as a token casting pick
2017 Bachelor Nick Viall  also had a more-diverse-than-average cast. A source told Us Weekly it was because “Nick was open to anything. He said, ‘I love every type of woman.’” His season was the one that led to Lindsay becoming the first Black Bachelorette.
The thing is, it shouldn’t be the lead’s responsibility for the cast to be more diverse. Instead of the Bachelor or Bachelorette giving input on what sort of men or women they’re into, the producer should be establishing a clear willingness from potential leads — and all of their contestants — to date outside of their race and an openness to dating someone who isn’t their usual “type.” 
Taking into account who the leads are interested in is about raising the chances of a successful love story, but given that the success rate isn’t all that high, that reasoning doesn’t hold water. Out of 24 seasons of The Bachelor, only four couples who met on the show are currently together. (If we’re just looking at people who stayed with their respective season’s winner, there’s only one couple: Sean and Catherine.) While The Bachelorette has six couples from 15 seasons still together, that is still only a 40% success rate. 
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Instead of putting focus on what the lead is looking for physically, Bachelor casting should be treated more like the experiment the series actually is. Put a genuinely open-minded lead on our screens with a wide variety of potential partners, and see what happens.
Vet Bachelor & Bachelorette Contestants More Thoroughly — & Don’t Cast For Controversy
Time and time again, contestants with offensive pasts have made it onto the show. In Lindsay’s season, contestant Lee Garrett wrote racist and sexist tweets on his public Twitter feed prior to his casting, and his “feud” with a Black contestant became a major storyline on the show. (He later apologized, but for many fans the apology was too little, too late). On Becca Kufrin’s season the following year, her eventual winner Garrett Yrigoyen liked a number of transphobic, xenophobic, and sexist Instagram posts before joining the show — activity that was visible to the average Instagram user. Becca’s season also had a cast member, Lincoln Adim, who had been charged with indecent assault and battery and was convicted soon before the season premiered — a story that any Bachelor fan can Google with very little effort. As mentioned above, during Weber’s recent season fans unearthed photos of contestant Fuller modelling for a “Save the Marlins” campaign that flippantly used the inherently racist slogans “white lives matter” and “blue lives matter.” (She later apologized.)
The best case scenario from all of this is still bad. Yrigoyen won, apologized for his Instagram likes, and he and Kurfrin are still engaged. Except, he’s now voicing problematic opinions once again. He posted “blue lives matter” rhetoric on social media during the ongoing protests against police brutality. Meanwhile, Kufrin co-hosts a podcast with Lindsay, and Yrigoyen’s opinions have put them at odds, even though Kufrin says she doesn't agree with her fiancé. 
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The point is: None of the problematic people should have been cast in the first place. The skeletons in their closets have been unearthed by regular people with access to Instagram and Google. These are not secrets, so Bachelor producers have a responsibility to more thoroughly examine contestants’ pasts, not gleefully continue to cast problematic ones for dramatic storylines. The fact that producers put a man who was publicly, openly racist against Black people on the Bachelorette season with the first Black lead is beyond unacceptable, but considering the show’s track record of allegedly missing contestants’ problematic histories, it could easily happen again to James unless something changes.
Hire More Non-White Producers
There aren’t exact numbers available on the diversity of the behind-the-scenes Bachelor staff, but it’s something that those involved in the show have commented on and the executive producers have now recognized.
In the blog post on her site, Lindsay called for “Diversify[ing] the producers on the show to make your contestants of colour feel more comfortable.” 
In an open letter published on Deadline on June 15, former casting producer Jazzy Collins said that she was the “only Black person in the casting office from when I was hired for casting the first season of a Black Bachelorette through the four seasons I worked on afterwards.” Collins claims in her letter that contestants “were not considered if they were ‘too Black’” and added, “Soon after I left the show, I found out the only Black cast[ing] producer was also no longer with the team.”
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Former contestant Lindsay Smith, who was on Andy Baldwin’s season in 2007, wrote a piece for Vox in 2017 in which she said she “never interacted with any people of colour on the production staff.” 
As Collins writes, “Not only is it important to have a diverse cast reflect what the rest of America looks like, it’s important for the production and casting teams to be able to share the same experiences as the cast members. You’re expecting a white team to be able to intimately produce people of colour on an emotional level that they’re truly unable to relate to.” It all trickles down. Once more diverse cast members can relate to a more diverse staff, more diverse viewers will be able to better relate to the show. 
The Bachelor executive producers shared a statement with Deadline acknowledging that things need to change: “We acknowledge our responsibility for the lack of representation of people of colour on our franchise and pledge to make significant changes to address this issue moving forward. We are taking positive steps to expand diversity in our cast, in our staff, and most importantly, in the relationships that we show on television.” 
Now that it’s been acknowledged on the record, audiences can hold producers accountable to that promise.
Give Non-White Contestants More Screen Time
The Bachelor franchise is all about drama, so if someone isn’t giving the producers anything to work with, they’re not going to get much screen time. That’s just a reality television fact. 
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But, the few non-white cast members often end up being the quieter ones, like Alexa Caves and Maurissa Gunn, who got intriguing intro packages on night one of Weber’s season, but pretty much disappeared after that. This could be a coincidence, but there’s likely more to it than that. 
Photo: ABC/Getty Images.
It could be because non-white contestants are uncomfortable in a room with a mostly white cast and a team of white producers. It could be because, historically, non-white women just aren’t there very long, so they’re not considered for long-term storylines and thus, more screen time. In 2016, Splinter reported that “more than half — 59% — of Black Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants leave the shows within two weeks.” Things have changed somewhat since then — Lindsay made it to the final three when Viall was the Bachelor, Tayshia Adams was in the final three on Colton Underwood’s season — but it’s still far too common to watch non-white contestants show up and leave on night one.
No matter the reason, something clearly needs to change. The show needs to actively give these contestants more chances to be heard, which means more screen time and more attention from producers. 
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2011, series creator Mike Fleiss blamed the show’s lack of diversity at least partly on diverse candidates not applying for the show. If this really is an issue, producers might want to start by looking at the footage that makes it into the final cut. Potential non-white contestants aren’t going to go out of their way to join a show if they don’t see people like them participating in main storylines or even speaking. 
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Don’t Wait Three More Years To Cast Another Non-White Lead
It’s simple. In addition to these key steps, the show also needs to continue to cast more non-white Bachelors and Bachelorettes. In five seasons, if Matt James and Rachel Lindsay are still the only Black leads on the series, Lindsay’s not going to be the only one done with this franchise.
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