The Bachelor is casting its first Black lead.
Matt James has been asked to be the bachelor for Season 25, following demands that the franchise cast a more diverse group of contestants. James was supposed to be a contestant on the next season of The Bachelorette, with Clare Crawley as the lead, but production was shuttered in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Matt has been on our radar since February, when producers first approached him to join Bachelor Nation, as part of Clare’s season,” ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke said in a statement announcing the casting Friday, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “When filming couldn’t move forward as planned, we were given the benefit of time to get to know Matt and all agreed he would make a perfect Bachelor.”
She continued, “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. 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.”
The 28-year-old North Carolina native played football at Wake Forest and then had a short stint in the NFL. He now lives in New York City with Tayler Cameron, a previous contestant on The Bachelorette, and Hannah Brown, a former Bachelorette (Cameron and Brown appeared on the same season).
James is a real estate broker, entrepreneur, and community organization; together, he and Cameron manage ABC Food Tours, which “offers kids from underserved communities the opportunity to explore the city through food, exercise and mental and physical wellness,” THR writes. Besides James, there’s been only one other bachelor who has been cast as The Bachelor lead without appearing in The Bachelorette.
“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.”
A lot of people online weren’t having it though.
Rachel Lindsay was the first black Bachelorette in the franchise and has been openly critical of the show since appearing in Season 21 of The Bachelor and Season 13 of The Bachelorette, saying that the show is overdue for a “diversity makeover.”
“I was hoping, when I came on, to be a trailblazer for that, and to increase diversity in the audience that watches it and also who comes on the show and who could potentially be the lead,” Lindsay told GMA. “I felt like the franchise had my back in that. But in the last three years, there really haven’t been changes made.”
TMZ reports Lindsay as saying she is happy with the casting decision but also said, "It would be remiss of me to not point out that based on the current climate it feels like a knee-jerk reaction and a result of societal pressure." Lindsay continued, "This announcement, without any further commitments regarding diversity, sweepingly brushes deeper issues under the rug. Until we see other action to address the systemic racism within the franchise, the casting news today is equivalent to the trend of posting a black box on your social media account without taking other steps to dismantle the systems of injustice."