Matt James will make history in the USA as the very first black lead in The Bachelor.
While The Bachelorette has previously featured Rachel Lindsay, in 24 seasons (and spin-offs) a black male has never starred in the title role.
James was initially cast to be a suitor on the upcoming season of The Bachelorette but when production halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, ABC began to think of a bigger role.
ABC unscripted executive, Rob Mills maintains that casting James was not in response to Lindsay’s recent criticism.
“It wasn’t a response to that. We could have made this announcement earlier or later,” Mills says. “Certainly no one is blind to what is happening in the world, so hopefully this announcement serves as a bit of optimism during a time that we can really use this. But I don’t want this to look like we’re patting ourselves on the back or taking a victory lap. We don’t want this, in any way, to seem like a cure-all and seem like, ‘Hey! Look what we did here!’ We know this is a few grains of sand in a very big hourglass. It’s taken a while to get where we are and we will continue to go further, and I acknowledge it may not be enough. In the last few years, I believe it’s gotten better and with the announcement of Matt, I hope it keeps getting better. We are very excited about Matt.
“There is that mantle that you are the first, and it’s been a long time coming, so there are additional pressures. Matt knows that he’s going to be asked about this and he’s ready,” Mills admits. “But what you never want is for somebody to feel like they are ‘The Bachelor’ because they are checking off a box.”
Karey Burke, president of ABC Entertainment, added, “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.”
In 2015 The Bachelor Australia cast Perth auctioneer Blake Garvey, who is part African-American.
The Bachelor (US) has screened in Australia on 9GEM.