In Bachelor news no one was expecting because it’s never announced this early, Matt James is your 2021 Bachelor! He’s also a black man—a series first! Previously, Rachel Lindsay was The Bachelorette’s first black lead in 2017.
James has not yet appeared on a Bachelor show—he was originally cast as a suitor on the upcoming season of The Bachelorette starring Clare Crawley, which was delayed in the wake of covid-19. Most obsessors of the series know him for one of two reasons: he’s very close with fan-favorite Tyler Cameron from Hannah Brown’s season of The Bachelorette; and Crawley has subtweeted James for “doing interviews and creating cameos” before even appearing on her season which, of course, he won’t be on anymore. (Bachelor viewers were quick to dismiss Crawley’s criticisms because James was only “doing interviews” to promote a fit-a-thon livestream benefitting healthcare workers, and he pledged all his cameo earnings to the Robin Hood Foundation to combat poverty in New York City.)
I can’t think of a single instance in which a Bachelor lead was someone who hadn’t appeared on a past season to ensure that fans have some familiarity with the personality, which leads me to play the conspiratorial game. Is this The Bachelor’s way of distracting viewers from past, extremely valid criticisms of discrimination and lack of diversity? Seems like a last-minute decision made to appear like The Bachelor is paying attention to the Black Lives Matters movement, not long after Lindsay threatened to cut ties with the franchise if a black Bachelor lead was not cast.
“It wasn’t a response to that. We could have made this announcement earlier or later,” ABC’s Rob Mills told Variety. “Certainly no one is blind to what is happening in the world, so hopefully this announcement serves as a bit of optimism during a time that we can really use this, but I don’t want this to look like we’re patting ourselves on the back or taking a victory lap. We don’t want this, in any way, to seem like a cure-all and seem like, ‘Hey! Look what we did here!’ We know this is a few grains of sand in a very big hourglass. It’s taken a while to get where we are and we will continue to go further, and I acknowledge it may not be enough. In the last few years, I believe it’s gotten better and with the announcement of Matt, I hope it keeps getting better. We are very excited about Matt.”
In 2012, Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson, two Nashville residents and black men, filed a lawsuit against The Bachelor franchise, claiming that the show deliberately excluded people of color during its then 23rd season (!) run, and that they weren’t chosen to compete because of their race despite being attractive, gainfully employed single men. At the time, The Bachelor denied the accusation by saying there aren’t a lot of people of color in the franchise because those demographics simply aren’t interested in participating. According to NPR, the franchise also argued that even though they weren’t being discriminatory, if they were, “their right to cast only white people if they want to is protected by the First Amendment because of the expressive, creative nature of The Bachelor/ette.” A few months after filing, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.