Here's Why Matt James' 'Bachelor' Casting Is Less Revolutionary Than It Seems

Temi Adebowale
Photo credit: Getty
Photo credit: Getty

From Men's Health

The shocking killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, has led to incredible change in just a matter of weeks. The ensuing worldwide protests against racism and police brutality have led to the removal of statues of racist figureheads, and the banning of the Confederate flag at NASCAR races.

There has also been a renewed call for diversity and equality in industries including media, publishing, and tech—and The Bachelor, one of ABC's longest-running shows, has decided to join in by announcing Matt James as its first Black male lead in its 18-year history. Awesome...right?

While the news is great, the timing is suspicious, to say the least. James was supposed to be a contestant on Clare Crowley's now-postponed season of The Bachelorette. Announcing him as the new Bachelor before that season has even filmed seems like a very pointed way to quiet down the calls for diversity and inclusion that have plagued the show for years, while also getting brownie points for being ~woke~. Additionally, this petition calling for a Black Bachelor has accumulated nearly 90,000 signatures since launching on June 8, so it's unknown if ABC would have even made the casting decision without the push from the petition.

Shortly after James' cast announcement was made, the show's executive producers released a statement in which they said they would "acknowledge our responsibility for the lack of representation of people of color on our franchise and pledge to make significant changes to address this issue moving forward."

But either way, the fact remains that ABC always knew it had a diversity problem, but they ignored it until they were forced to face it.

Photo credit: Craig Sjodin - Getty Images
Photo credit: Craig Sjodin - Getty Images

In 2017, Rachel Lindsay was the first Black contestant to make it to the final three on The Bachelor when she appeared on Nick Viall's season, and she became the franchise's first Black Bachelorette later that year. And while her season had the most diverse cast in Bachelor history, in 2019, Lindsay told Entertainment Tonight that she was disappointed things hadn't moved forward since then.

"We need to change the system. Something has to be done. Break the rules, step outside the box, give the people what they want!" Lindsay said. She added, "The Bachelor is in charge of saying what they're interested in and what they're not. Some people don't know that—they do ask you. You've seen some of the girls that Peter's dated...And so, I expect girls to look more like Hannah than they do like me or someone else of color."

After James' casting was announced, Lindsay took to Twitter to explain that the Bachelor franchise still has more work to do when it comes to diversity. "I would be remiss to not point out that based on the current climate, it feels like a knee-jerk reaction and a result of societal pressure," she wrote.

Of course, change has to come from the powers that be at ABC. And in the past, it seems The Bachelor's top decision-makers have used ratings as a weak excuse for not being more racially inclusive.

In 2017, franchise creator Mike Fleiss said he was upset at the ratings decline during Lindsay's season, and it appeared that he believed it was due to her race: "I found it incredibly disturbing in a Trumpish kind of way. How else are you going to explain the fact that she's down in the ratings, when—black or white—she was an unbelievable Bachelorette? It revealed something about our fans."

However, as E! pointed out, when Becca Kufrin and Hannah Brown's seasons also experienced a ratings decline, ABC had nothing to say about it.

Photo credit: Craig Sjodin - Getty Images
Photo credit: Craig Sjodin - Getty Images

On June 15, The Bachelor/Bachelorette's former casting producer Jazzy Collins spoke out about her time with the franchise, and she stated that after being tasked with casting a diverse selection of guys for Rachel's season, the show went back to its mold of having a mostly-white cast. Collins also stated that during her five seasons on the show, she was "the only Black person in the casting office from when I was hired for casting the first season of a Black Bachelorette through the four seasons I worked on afterwards." She also recounted being the victim of multiple microaggressions.

Chris Harrison has been host of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette from the franchise's very beginning in 2002. In 2019, he gave an extremely wishy-washy answer when The Hollywood Reporter asked him if the show would cast a Black and/or LGBTQ+ lead:

"You always have to keep in mind the importance. But at the same time, you really have to lean towards: what is going to be the best television show? What will keep everybody entertained, employed and keep this train moving in the right direction? We work extremely hard behind the scenes to create diversity and see more people represented on our show. It’s incumbent on us to do that, but it’s also really incumbent on us and everybody who runs this show to keep the show alive and keep it a viable option for ABC to renew. What’s the purpose of making a big social stand if you’re off the air in December? Every writer or person who is clamoring for something, whatever their social issue is, they’re going to move on and go yell at somebody else. You have to listen, but you have to do so and be prudent about it as well. We can’t just make decisions because we want to make everybody happy by making a social statement."

Ultimately, it seems like the decision was made to make a social statement.

But what makes the Matt James choice even more questionable is the fact that there was another, more qualified man that would have made a great Bachelor for the season that aired earlier this year: Mike Johnson.

Photo credit: Slaven Vlasic - Getty Images
Photo credit: Slaven Vlasic - Getty Images

Johnson had appeared on Hannah Brown's season of The Bachelorette in 2019, and he was largely seen as the front-runner for The Bachelor's 24th season. However, many fans, including Johnson himself, were disappointed when the perfectly fine, but bland, Peter Weber was picked instead. It's unknown why Johnson wasn't picked (although some believe his short and uneventful stint on Bachelor in Paradise may have been the culprit), but he offered his insight into the situation shortly after Weber was cast in September 2019.

"After 24 Bachelors, a black Bachelor should have been cast...I do know that Peter and I are two completely different people—both good people, kind-hearted people," Johnson said at the time. He also told Entertainment Tonight that he wanted to see other men of other races be considered for the lead. "But I do feel that I’m a bit more outspoken than Peter. I’m a bit louder than Peter is. I have tattoos, and the obvious, I’m black, so we are very diverse and different in that regard as well."

Ultimately, it'll be great to see a Black face in the lead role of The Bachelor, but it remains to be seen how the show will evolve in the future. Along with a greater number of Black leads and contestants, diversity and inclusion should also extend to all facets of the show, all the way from production to filming.

Here are eight racial justice organizations you can support right now.

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