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The Bachelor franchise faced a reckoning during 2020 and early 2021 as the Black Lives Matter movement shed a light on a lack of diverse casting on the show, which was followed by a controversy-laden season starring the first-ever Black lead Matt James. But with the latest announcement of the new Bachelor, Clayton Echard, fans are disappointed and believe the network hasn't made strides in its efforts to diversify the hit reality series.
While Bachelor Nation viewers were anticipating the announcement of next season's lead, Echard — a 28-year-old white former NFL player from Missouri — not only underwhelmed the show's fanbase but also caused an uproar about the direction of the reality series after seemingly promising to do better.
"It’s a tired choice for a tired audience that is craving and demanding more," members of the Bachelor Diversity Campaign, a collective of fans who want to see the show step up its commitment to diversity, told Yahoo Entertainment. "We have seen this show before, quite literally over 20 times. This is not a knock to Clayton, who seems like a nice guy from our very limited introduction to him, but frustration that producers ignored more visible, impactful and diverse contenders from this season and last in order to show us the same tired formula."
The group was at the forefront of calls for ABC to make changes to the show's format, which includes casting, in 2020 with a Change.org petition in favor of racial diversity "both in front of and behind the camera." In it, petitioners stated that the lack of a BIPOC lead was "unacceptable" and called for a number of changes to "combat racism" in the show's future, including "Cast a Black Bachelor as Season 25 lead."
While James made history as the franchise's first Black Bachelor in the show's history, many see Echard's casting as tone-deaf. And criticism is mounting that Echard, who competed for Michelle Young's affections on Season 18 of The Bachelorette, is a disappointing choice following the franchise's historic first fully BIPOC final four.
"The criticism of choosing Clayton as the next Bachelor has nothing to do with Clayton himself. It can't be personal actually, because viewers don't know him. He was not a primary contender on the show and we weren't given a chance to learn his story," the Bachelor Diversity Campaign members said. "So the fact that he was chosen as the Bachelor over BIPOC contestants who went further in the process, and therefore had more screen time and audience exposure, highlights once again that ABC makes the show it wants to. The question really is, why does ABC continue to want to make a show with a white lead when there are multiple Black contestants they had to pass by to do so?"
Members of the Bachelor Diversity Campaign argued that the network went so far as to ignore its own formula when selecting Echard, who hadn't made it to Michelle Young's final episodes.
"We don't think that ABC has a responsibility to only have BIPOC leads going forward, though we might argue that doing so would be entirely equitable and laudable. We do think that ABC should continue to follow their own established pattern of choosing the next Bachelor or Bachelorette from the final contestants," they explained. "Instead, what they have done twice in the past year is choose a white lead for the next Bachelorette and Bachelor, Katie [Thurston] and Clayton — a white lead who did not make it to final episodes of their season, and who left much earlier than remaining BIPOC contestants. Breaking their own loosely-created rules to make exceptions for white contestants at the exclusion of BIPOC contestants only highlights how far we haven't come."
Yahoo Entertainment reached out to both Warner Bros., which produces the show, and ABC for comment but did not immediately receive responses. Still, Bachelor Nation hasn't held back when it comes to sharing their thoughts.
"This choice of a lead, who the audience barely got to know over the course of the season, continues to perpetuate the idea that to be a white lead on the show you simply need to be likable and look stereotypical of what is supposedly 'attractive' to the audience demographics; whereas, to be a BIPOC lead you need to be full of qualifications and highly regarded, someone who won’t make mistakes," the Bachelor Diversity Campaign said.
Instead, ABC came under fire for seemingly borrowing the storyline of a fan favorite from Young's season, Rodney Mathews — a 29-year-old Black former athlete who was eliminated from the show the very evening that Echard was announced as the upcoming Bachelor. Throughout Young's season, Mathews referred to himself as an underdog, which was a talking point as Young sent him home. Immediately, fans took note of the tagline appearing on Echard's promotional photo: "Everyone loves an underdog."
"But Rodney is the underdog?? When did we ever talk about Clayton being the underdog?" one person commented on the post.
"Explain how he's an underdog? He's a tall white football player," wrote another.
Fans weren't only surprised to see the reappropriated narrative but also felt compelled to point out that it's problematic.
"ABC clearly doesn't understand what an underdog is. In no way in America is a straight, cis, white male athlete an underdog. They aren't even an underdog within this franchise," the Bachelor Diversity Campaign said. "It's completely tone-deaf and misses any type of mark they were attempting to make."
And although the group acknowledges that ABC has responded to "heightened fan pressure" to diversify with some casting choices throughout the past year and a half and the hiring of its first Black executive producer, the latest move proves that these small steps aren't enough for some viewers.
"This casting decision shows just how much room for growth remains," The Bachelor Diversity Group said. "If this show cannot actually reform, listen to its audience, and demonstrate sustained commitment to change, then it's going to become a reality relic. It will stop attracting new viewers, continue to lose long-term viewers, and be a television artifact instead of the groundbreaking show it was at its inception."