On June 12, 2020, Matt James was announced as the 25th bachelor lead and first ever Black bachelor. His season officially premiered on Jan. 4.
James is the third Black lead in the franchise, following former bachelorettes Rachel Lindsay and Tayshia Adams. However, James’ monumental season quickly became overshadowed by controversies involving host Chris Harrison, contestant Rachael Kirkconnell, season 13 bachelorette Rachel Lindsay and numerous former contestants.
Kirkconnell made headlines after a picture resurfaced of her attending a 2018 antebellum plantation-themed formal.
The Antebellum South was a period in the history of the Southern United States from the late 18th century until the start of the American Civil War in 1861. Antebullum themed events are deeply rooted in slavery and racism.
“Well, Rachel, is it a good look in 2018 or is it not a good look in 2021? Because there's a big difference,” said Harrison in an interview with Lindsay on ExtraTV on Feb. 9.
Harrison's words immediately sent his career and the future of “The Bachelor” franchise into a frenzy. The interview led to numerous contestants from seasons past and present releasing social media statements expressing their feelings surrounding both Harrison and Lindsay’s interview as well as the rumors surrounding Kirkconnell.
The cast of James’ season released a joint statement, which numerous women shared to their personal Instagram pages on Feb. 11.
“Any defense of racist behavior denies the lived and continued experiences of BIPOC individuals,” the statement on contestant Serena Pitts’ page states. “These experiences are not to be exploited or tokenized. Rachel Lindsay continues to advocate with grace for individuals who identify as BIPOC within this franchise. Just because she’s speaking the loudest doesn’t mean she’s alone.”
The day after, the men of season 16 of “The Bachelorette” featuring Tayshia Adams’ released a joint statement on Feb. 12.
“We had the opportunity to be a part of one of the most diverse casts in the history of the franchise,” the statement on former contestant Brendan Morais’ page states “The addition of more people who identify as BIPOC has opened up the conversation of race, community, and who we are as people.We stand united in denouncing racist behavior and any defense thereof.”
On Feb. 10, prior to the joint statements being released, Harrison shared a personal apology on his Instagram in regard to his words said during the interview with Lindsay.
“To my Bachelor Nation family, I will always own a mistake when I make one, so I am here to extend a sincere apology,” Harrison said. “While I do not speak for Rachael Kirkconnell, my intentions were simply to ask for grace in offering her an opportunity to speak on her own behalf. What I now realize I have done is cause harm by wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism, and for that I am so deeply sorry.”
Just three days later on Feb. 13, Harrison released a second statement via Instagram sharing his extended thoughts on his ignorance regarding his words within the Lindsay interview as well as his announcement that he will be stepping down from his role as host through the rest of the James’ season.
Emmanuel Acho, author and creator of video series “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” announced via his social media on Feb. 27 that he would be filling in as host for James’ “After the Final Rose Special.”
Acho will be a great addition to ending James’ season in a strong, educated and powerful way. He will hold all contestants, including James and the show, accountable for what has perspired over the last few weeks.
Harrison made his first interview appearance since the ExtraTV interview on March 4 with Michael Strahan and Good Morning America.
"I am an imperfect man; I made a mistake and I own that," Harrison said. "I believe that mistake doesn't reflect who I am or what I stand for. I am committed to progress, not just for myself, also for the franchise. And this is a franchise that has been a part of my life for the better part of 20 years and I love it."
Harrison did express his interest in returning to the franchise as host and believes change can be made within the show and he wants to be a part of that.
As a longtime fan of “The Bachelor”, I’ve never seen the franchise blown up to this extent.
I do think Harrison’s words were coming from a safe place and didn’t necessarily mean to defend Kirkconnell’s actions. However, his words were conveyed poorly. As a host of a long standing successful show, he should be held accountable just as every other white man should be.
“The Bachelor” franchise needs to be held accountable and more socially aware within their casting, production team and leads. There was only one diverse male lead prior to James, which was Juan Pablo Galavis, the first and only Latino bachelor in the history of the franchise.
Prior to Lindsay’s 2017 stint on “The Bachelorette,” every bachelorette before her had been white. Even with casting for each individual season, season 17 starring Sean Lowe was the first in which I can recall seeing a group of diverse women.
Based off of Harrison’s remarks on Good Morning America, I believe the show will return as planned with season 17 of “The Bachelorette.” On behalf of the fans and BIPOC community, the show should look to do better background checks on desired contestants, even if that means extensive social media search.
If Harrison does return as host, I hope he will no longer stick up for contestants regarding their inappropriate and wrong behavior. If he is as remorseful as he says is, there should be real change to come within “The Bachelor” franchise.
Fans can continue to watch the conclusion of Matt James’ season of “The Bachelor” Mondays on ABC or the next day on Hulu. His season will finish with his final three fantasy suites, the women meeting his parents and the infamous final rose ceremony. This will be followed by Acho’s hosting of the “After the Final Rose” special.
Follow Blake Haynes on Twitter, @BLAMHAY
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