Matt James’ season of The Bachelor has had its fair share uncomfortable and deeply problematic moments. The March 8 episode of the show, however, may have taken the cake; despite knowing the tense relationship between Matt and his estranged father, Manny James, producers still felt it was an appropriate idea to air an intimate conversation between them.
"There's still a lot of fear about what a longterm commitment looks like based on what I've seen in my family in the past, and that's not healthy," James shared with the audience. "I still have a lot of fear about what commitment looks like based on him and my mom's relationship. And that's not something I want to carry with me. Harboring that negativity in my life hasn't progressed any of my relationships. It's hindered my growth. And for me to move forward, I need to address those demons in my life."
Matt has previously said that he was raised by his mother, who left his father and divorced him after he cheated on her.
Both Matt and his father looked tense and pained throughout the conversation — "When I needed you, you weren't there," a distraught Matt said. But after a bit of back and forth, Manny eventually apologized.
"Whatever I can do to make it better, I'll work on it. I want you to be happy for the rest of your life and I want you to have a relationship that's healthy; not like what I went through," he said.
After the episode aired, Matt wrote a Twitter thread justifying his father’s presence on the show. “Tonight’s convo with my dad was hard to experience, and it’s just as hard to watch all this time later, especially knowing the world is watching with me," Matt wrote.
"I just wanted to say that too often, we see dangerous stereotypes and negative depictions of Black fathers in media. And they have consequences when presented without context,” he continued, linking to a piece from a social justice communication lab about representations of Black men in the media and public bias. “All I hope is that people watch that conversation with nuance, care, and also an understanding that there are real systemic issues at play. I’m so proud of myself for being vulnerable, and I’m so proud of my mother. I wouldn’t be who I am without my dad. That’s a fact."
However, not everyone felt that the conversation was productive — in fact, many agreed that it shouldn’t have been aired in the first place.
“Why is ABC so comfortable exploiting Black family trauma but so hesitant to show Black love?” wrote a Twitter user who was retweeted by the Bachelor Diversity Campaign. "Matt you’ve given way more than this show deserves," wrote another fan.
I really wish the producers cared about this...this was definitely a conversation that you and your father needed to have, but it feels like they exploited it and with the “first Black bachelor”.— matara (@Greenearat) March 9, 2021
Former first Black Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay, who has spent many years talking about The Bachelor's diversity issues and has unfortunately been a victim of the show's most recent Chris Harrison-related mess, explained that she found the producers' decision to broadcast the conversation "disturbing" and that it “should have never been aired for America to see.”
“What’s the one thing we know about his dad? That he wasn’t around," Lindsay said on the “Bachelor Party” podcast post-episode. "If you know anything about stereotypes that are assigned to particular races, here, the Black race, you know that absentee fathers is a stereotype.”
Lindsay continued, “I know what producers would probably say about this. … This conversation may have been necessary for Matt. Maybe Matt did need this, but this was a conversation that should have been just for Matt, not for the rest of the world to see.”
“The fact that you were so willing to throw him under the bus and exploit him for stereotypes within the community for what you would call ‘good TV,’” she said. “The fact that they cannot see the underlying issues — or you know what’s even worse? Not that they probably can’t see them, they don’t care. I know for a fact — please listen to me when I say this — I know for a fact that Matt was uncomfortable with this conversation and the fact that it was going to be aired.”
Refinery29 reached out to ABC for comment.