ENTERTAINMENT

Matt James Named First Black Lead Of 'The Bachelor'

This is a start, but the overwhelmingly white show still has a lot of work to do.
Matt James will be "The Bachelor's" first Black lead.
Matt James will be "The Bachelor's" first Black lead.

The Bachelor” franchise has cast just one Black lead in 18 years, but ABC announced Friday that will be changing in 2021: Matt James, best known as the BFF of Tyler Cameron from “Bachelorette” Season 15, will be the next male lead. 

“It’s an honor,” James told “Good Morning America.” “I’m just going to lean into myself and how my mom raised me, and hopefully when people invite me into their homes on Monday night they’re going to see that I’m not much different from them and they see that diverse love stories are beautiful.”

The announcement comes just four days after fans launched a petition calling for ABC to name a Black Bachelor for the upcoming season. It quickly racked up tens of thousands of signatures and endorsements from popular “Bachelor” alums including Rachel Lindsay, Kaitlyn Bristowe and Nick Viall.

“We’re glad ABC has done the right thing and cast a black lead for the next season of The Bachelor,” the organizers of the Bachelor Diversity campaign said in a statement to HuffPost. “While we’re thrilled for that first step, we still plan to hold ABC accountable to make sure his representation is handled responsibly. We want to continue seeing greater BIPOC representation within the The Bachelor franchise, both on and off camera — as well as providing the resources and support they need during the show and in its aftermath. There’s plenty more work to do, but this is a start.”

The conversation about diversity and “The Bachelor” is not new.

The franchise faced a racial discrimination lawsuit in April 2012. The class-action suit charged that the show’s overwhelmingly white casting was a violation of civil rights law that “plainly prohibits whites from refusing to contract with African Americans because of their race.” The lawsuit was eventually dismissed on the basis of the First Amendment, but the number of people of color on each season did increase.

However, Sean Lowe remains the only male lead since at least 2013 to chose a woman who is not white. Black contestants still rarely last beyond the fifth or sixth week on both “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.” The overwhelming whiteness of the franchise has been put into starker relief with the show’s latest offering: “The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons ― Ever!,” which recaps a past season of “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette” every week. 

Lindsay, an attorney, became the first Black contestant to be cast as the lead of “The Bachelorette,” a move many hoped was a sign of greater change within the franchise. However, since Lindsay’s 2017 season aired to lower ratings — which “Bachelor” creator Mike Fleiss acknowledged “revealed something about our fans” that was “incredibly disturbing in a Trumpish kind of way” — little has shifted. The next five leads were all white, as were their chosen partners.

On Season 14 of “The Bachelorette,” winner Garrett Yrigoyen was found to have “liked” multiple racist, homophobic and sexist posts on Instagram. And on the latest season of “The Bachelor,” a contestant was discovered to have participated in a campaign for marlin preservation that used the phrase “White Lives Matter.” All the while, the franchise stayed silent. 

Over the years, the show has faced increasing public criticism over its lack of diversity and inhospitality to Black contestants in particular. The popular recap podcast “2 Black Girls 1 Rose” has focused its coverage on the show’s whiteness and continually calls for change.

Lindsay, despite remaining closely affiliated with the franchise after her stint as Bachelorette and co-hosting its official podcast, “Bachelor Happy Hour,” has frequently spoken up about racism within the universe of the show. In a recent interview with AfterBuzz and in a blog post she wrote earlier this week, she said that she would have to sever ties with the franchise if radical changes were not made.

“I have come to the conclusion that if changes are not made on the inside and outside of the franchise, I will dissociate myself from it,” Lindsay wrote. “I am tired of asking for change and my requests have been ineffective. These changes have to extend beyond casting a lead of color.”

Karey Burke, president of ABC Entertainment, said in a statement that the network and franchise still had work to do. 

“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,” Burke said. “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.”

CORRECTION: This article previously misstated that Lowe is the only male lead on the show to choose a nonwhite woman.