2020 marked the beginning of a complete cultural reset in our society. The year marked the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The dawn of the coronavirus’ presence coincided with great political unrest in the United States between the then-upcoming presidential election and an uprising in unjust police brutality, following the murder of George Floyd in June. Floyd’s death inspired many cultural conversations surrounding how racism had been long and deeply rooted in every element of society.
How ‘The Bachelor’ Responded To Conversations About Race
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As the year went by, it became virtually impossible for popular reality TV series to ignore the global unrest. As one of the most popular reality TV franchises of all time, the ‘Bachelor’ franchise soon faced a dilemma: How would the franchise, which had only featured one Black lead in its nearly two-decade-long history at the time, choose to adapt?
In the Fall of 2020, “The Bachelor” began filming; The series would feature its very first Black lead, a then-28-year-old Matt James.
James knew exactly how important it was to be in this position.
According to NBC News per Variety, James said, “I felt that pressure-I’m not going to lie-initially.”
In a statement announcing James’ casting at the time, ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke had said, “This is just the beginning, and we will continue to take action with regard to diversity issues on this franchise.”
ABC had also vowed to honor its “responsibility to make sure the love stories we’re seeing on screen are representative of the world we live in,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Matt James Looks Back On His Season In Hindsight
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James’ season ended up revolving around his love story with 24-year-old Rachael Kirkconnell. Matters between the two had gone incredibly smooth and their relationship had been typical of the show’s fairytale romances.
Until, that is, old photos of Kirkconnell attending an antebellum-themed party in college.
After the pictures had surfaced, the controversy cast a shadow over the remainder of the season; Longtime host Chris Harrison had defended Kirkconnell during an interview with Rachel Lindsay, who had been the first Black lead on “The Bachelorette” in 2017. His defense did not sit well with Bachelor Nation. Harrison soon stepped down from hosting duties.
Looking back on how strong of a role this controversy played during his season in a new interview with the aforementioned Los Angeles Times, James said, “My relationship had been made into a sideshow, a complete circus. Rachael and I have moved on. We’re one of the only couples from that franchise still going strong. The reason is we’re going at things at our own pace. We’re not playing games that a lot of people play just to stay in that circle.”
James also revealed some insight into how those in charge of the franchise had dealt with the controversy and its importance in the new interview. He had also stressed he wouldn’t be going into great detail about the photo controversy in his recently released memoir, “First Impressions: Off Screen Conversations With a Bachelor on Race, Family, and Forgiveness.”
“Maybe I would have told that story if the franchise had made a more concerted effort to take part in that conversation when it was at its height.
He went on to say, “That opportunity we lost because everyone was afraid and sitting on their hands. I understand it, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when you bring people of color into your space. If they’re not willing to have that conversation, they should strongly consider not going there in the first place. There are things about being Black who aren’t Black can never understand. It’s too much for them to handle. But it’s my life.”
Still, James doesn’t wish he could change his past.
“It was still a great experience, and so much good came out of it. It was frustrating and disappointing. But there’s another way to look at it. One of the main reasons I went on the show was to find someone who was compatible with me, and I did that despite the show, which is hilarious,” he said.
“I found what I was looking for, which shouldn’t have been the case, but I’ll take it,” he concluded.
James’ memoir is available now!