Bachelor Team on Franchise’s Issues With Race, Matt James’ Complaints 5

After The Bachelor‘s issues surrounding race were in the spotlight during the ABC reality series’ Television Critics Association presentation earlier this year, the show’s producers are now acknowledging prior missteps.

“It’s hard to say out loud, that people of color didn’t see themselves represented, that they did not see The Bachelor franchise as a safe place,” franchise executive producer Bennett Graebner told the Los Angeles Times in a story published online Wednesday. “We didn’t have a Black lead in this franchise for 15 years, and that’s inexcusable. It created a vicious cycle, and it’s taken a lot of work to get back to a place where we feel at least we’re working for the positive.”

Graebner and fellow Bachelor EPs Jason Ehrlich and Claire Freeland’s sit-down with the publication regarding how the show handles race follows NPR journalist Eric Deggans asking the trio about the topic at TCA in February. Deggans asked why the show has a “hard time dealing with racial issues in-depth,” in light of previous Black leads Rachel Lindsay and Matt James having voiced issues with how the franchise addresses race.

At the TCA event, none of the EPs directly answered the question, and after a stretch of silence, Deggans quipped, “I guess we have our answer.”

In the conversation with the Los Angeles Times, Freeland said, “The core value to this show is that everybody deserves to find love, regardless of race, ethnicity, background, faith.” She added, “The only way we can do that in a truly fulsome way is to have people on the show that reflect the country we live in.”

Graebner told the outlet that the show “let Matt down” and went on to say, “That season went wrong on so many levels. We did not protect him as we should have. The finale of that season was the darkest day I’ve had on this franchise. Here was this great Black man, and we should have been celebrating his love story. Instead, what we saw was a man burdened and overwhelmed by issues of racism. It was really sad for me personally.”

Freeland and Graebner called it a “priority” to cast a Black Bachelor but did not specify how soon this may happen.

James starred as the Bachelor for season 25 that aired in 2021, and he remains the only Black lead throughout the show’s 28 seasons. James was critical of various aspects of how his season was handled, including the edit for an episode that showed him reuniting with his estranged father. “Too often, we see dangerous stereotypes and negative depictions of Black fathers in media,” James posted to Twitter shortly after the episode aired. “And they have consequences when presented without context.”

Lindsay, who starred on The Bachelorette in 2017 as the first Black lead, has also criticized how James’ season was handled. (More recent Black leads on The Bachelorette include Michelle Young in 2021 and Charity Lawson last year.) Garnering headlines during James’ season was a resurfaced photo of contestant Rachael Kirkconnell attending an antebellum-themed party. Ultimately, Kirkconnell was the winner of James’ season, and the couple remains together.

Longtime Bachelor franchise host Chris Harrison exited his role in 2021 after he defended Kirkconnell earlier that year in an interview for Extra with then-correspondent Lindsay. Additionally, series creator Mike Fleiss stepped away from the franchise last year; two days after his exit was announced, he responded to a report that his departure followed an investigation into racial discrimination, with Fleiss acknowledging that he could have done more to engender diversity.

The Bachelorette returns to ABC on July 8 with star Jenn Tran, who finished in fifth place on Joey Graziadei’s recently concluded season of The Bachelor. Tran marks the franchise’s first Asian American lead.

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