ABC has announced its next rose-wielding, date-shuffling Bachelor to lead the major franchise’s 25th season. Former Bachelorette prospect Matt James— a 28-year-old real estate broker and community organization founder—will be the reality dating competition’s next big star. He’ll be making franchise history as the first Black man to lead the series and only the second Black lead in the show’s 18-year history. Reader, if you think we’re going to rain on this very long-overdue parade by charting the immense pressure ABC and Bachelor producers had to endure before finally deciding to give a Black man a spot at the podium...you are absolutely right. Because having to write “first Black male lead” in 2020 is always going to be an incredibly frustrating thing, no matter how celebratory the occasion.
Though James had been, as ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke stated in a recent press release, “on [the network’s] radar since February” after originally being chosen to compete prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, it ultimately took alumni-led backlash to arrive at this point. Previous Bachelorette star and only other Black lead, Rachel Lindsay, called for the franchise to examine its own bias in a viral blog post, which inspired a petition urging the network to cast its second Black star. Lindsay, if you recall, had to deal with her own share of racism when a contestant from her season was exposed for past racist tweets. Additionally, The Bachelor Nation was in the spotlight recently when former lead Hannah Brown was rightfully criticized for singing along to the N-word on Instagram Live, which Lindsey also had to address.
And none of this even comes close to the weeks of global protesting against the murder of George Floyd, which has sparked an industry-wide reckoning with its complicity in systemic racism, leading to a number of firings, lost endorsements, and late-arriving policy changes. While Burke is careful not to say that any of this had a direct impact on the network’s choice to position James as the lead, she did promise that the network will “continue to take action with regard to diversity issues on this franchise,” and that the company feels “so privileged to have Matt as our first Black Bachelor.” We, too, are excited, but should it have required this much strife to accomplish something so simple? Probably not.
Looking for ways to advocate for Black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.