The Bachelor has its first Black lead in Matt James. But there's more to be done, according to The Bachelorette star Rachel Lindsay.
Matt James, pal to Bachelor Nation veterans Tyler Cameron and Hannah Brown, was originally cast for Clare Crawley's season of The Bachelorette. However, that season of TV has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While Clare's season sat in limbo, a campaign was launched for The Bachelor franchise to be more diverse. A petition signed and circulated by fans and veteran cast members called for the reality series to cast a lead of color as well as increase diversity behind the screens. It's something Rachel Lindsay echoed on Good Morning America after Matt James' casting was announced.
Until Matt was announced, Rachel was the franchise's only Black lead in 40 seasons of television.
"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," she said. Rachel's season of The Bachelorette, season 13, aired in 2017.
"I want producers of color," Rachel said on GMA. "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. I need the acknowledgment of that. Not putting a band-aid over the situation and just saying, 'Here, we're going to put this here. Are you happy now?'"
Rachel's comments did not stop there.
A little later in the day, she congratulated Matt on Twitter, but said there's still a lot more she needs to see.
"Congrats to Matt James. I am happy to see that a black man was cast after 18 years and 40 seasons. I believe it is a step in the right direction," she said, then added, "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. This announcement, without any further commitments regarding diversity, sweepingly brushes deeper issues under the rug."
"Until we see action to address the systemic racism within the franchise, the casting news today is equivalent to the trend of posting a black box on your social media account without other steps taken to dismantle the systems of injustice," she tweeted.
"I look forward to hearing more about the additional efforts the franchise plans to make towards change," read her final tweet.
The franchise flirted with Black leads before, notably Mike Johnson from Hannah Brown's season of The Bachelorette. Instead, Peter Weber got the job of handing out roses. The reality franchise's problem with diversity has been brought up time and time again, but it seems the worldwide marches against racial injustice provided a tipping point.
"Matt has been on our radar since February, when producers first approached him to join Bachelor Nation, as part of Clare's season. 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," Karey Burke, president of ABC Entertainment, said in a statement. "We know we have a responsibility to make sure the love stories we're seeing onscreen are representative of the world we live in, and we are proudly in service to our audience. This is just the beginning, and we will continue to take action with regard to diversity issues on this franchise. We feel so privileged to have Matt as our first Black Bachelor and we cannot wait to embark on this journey with him."
Matt's season of The Bachelor, season 25, will air in winter 2021.