Matt James, ABC’s First Black Bachelor, Says Producers Missed A Chance To Address Race Issues: “Everyone Was Afraid And Sitting On Their Hands”

Matt James, who made history last year as the first Black (male) lead on one of TV’s biggest shows, The Bachelor, has had over a year to reflect on the experience and now says he sees the full scope of the opportunity lost. Given the landmark nature of his role, James says he expected the show’s producers would use the conversations around race and other matters he was having with the contestants and then-host Chris Harrison to illuminate the issues the country was facing in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. But when he saw the show after it was edited, those discussions and even the reality of his own accomplishments were subsumed by the show’s fluffier fare.

“There was nothing to lay the framework — my background, who I was or why I’m here,” James recently told the Los Angeles Times. “The show went straight into seeing these women doing crazy things. It was very frustrating to watch.”

The Bachelor franchise had long been criticized for its lack of diversity, and with the George Floyd protests gaining steam, the show’s executive producers issued a statement in June of last year addressing the franchise’s history of poor representation. They vowed to do better.

We acknowledge our responsibility for the lack of representation of people of color on our franchise and pledge to make significant changes to address this issue moving forward. We are taking positive steps to expand diversity in our cast, in our staff, and most importantly, in the relationships that we show on television. We can and will do better to reflect the world around us and show all of its beautiful love stories.

The sentiment of that last sentence seems to have stuck with James.

“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,” James said. “That opportunity was 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 that people who aren’t Black can never understand. It’s too much for them to handle. But it’s my life.”

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