When The Bachelor first premiered in 2002, many felt that the possibilities for the ABC franchise's future were endless. It evolved into a number of spinoffs, presenting us with a whole universe of personalities to relate to and obsess over. Unfortunately, even as Bachelor Nation grew, its efforts towards diversity did not; in past seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, the franchise has only had two leads who weren't white.
But that's all changing now. Bachelor Nation, we now have our very first Black Bachelor, and he's someone you know pretty well: Matt James.
Fans likely first met the 28-year-old real estate broker, entrepreneur and community organiser as the righthand man of fandom fave Tyler Cameron, but Matt was on the path to carving out his own lane during a run on Clare Crawley's now-delayed season of The Bachelorette. When they announced that Matt was going to be the next star of the show, Bachelor producers revealed that they had been watching him for a long time and always wanted him to play a major part in the future.
"Matt has been on our radar since February, when producers first approached him to join Bachelor Nation, as part of Clare’s season," said ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke said in an official statement. "When filming couldn’t move forward as planned, we were given the benefit of time to get to know Matt and all agreed he would make a perfect Bachelor.”
"This is just the beginning, and we will continue to take action with regard to diversity issues on this franchise," the statement concluded.
If you ask Rachel Lindsay, Bachelor Nation's first Black lead, the casting is long overdue. Since finding love on The Bachelorette in 2017, Rachel has vocally criticised the show for its failure to bring in more diversity. Though the franchise has seen many people from different backgrounds in its 18 years on air, The Bachelor's casting choices have been sending a very strong message about who deserves to be at the centre of their own love story — and who doesn't.
"I was hoping when I came on to be a trailblazer for that and to increase diversity in the audience that watches it. But in the last three years, there really haven’t been changes made,” Rachel admitted this morning after learning that Matt had been cast. “I want producers of colour. I’d like for them to cast leads that are interested in dating outside of their race that aren’t just getting their first-time experience — for the first time — on national TV.”
The sentiment is echoed with many of the viewers, who begin circulating a petition around Bachelor Nation to promote anti-racism on the show. Garnering almost 90,000 signatures, the petition calls for The Bachelor's next leading man to identify as Black and for the contestant lineup to be at least 35% composed of BIPOC (black, indigenous, or people of colour) in the future. The petition also demands that the production gives BIPOC contestants equitable screen time — because you know how that goes — and that the show hires a diversity consultant to ensure that bigotry has no place on set. It has already been signed by Rachel, Tyler, and several other Bachelor alumni.
Casting Matt is a first major step for the franchise, but it has to be followed up with major systemic changes in order to actual make a difference. Diversity isn't just about getting brown and Black people into the room; it's also about amplifying our voices and narratives within the space. Bachelor Nation still has a lot of work to do.