by Rachael Hatchett
Matt James is the first ever Black bachelor in the franchise’s history and arguably the most qualified. His contribution to the franchise was supposed to signify ABC’s attempt to appeal more to diverse audiences, however, it left viewers confused, offended, and outraged.
James has an expansive resume: he was a former professional NFL player, a banking analyst at PNC bank, a research analyst at a commercial real estate company in NYC, and founded a nonprofit organization, ABC Food Tours, which exposes underprivileged children to different food establishments and cultures across NYC. Yet, the show failed to mention any of his accomplishments or his life outside of the show. The producer’s choice to alienate James’s career is drastically different from the strategy used to promote the previous bachelor, Pete Weber, who was known for being a pilot (hence the nickname, Pilot Pete). Instead, they decided to dial in on the “tall, dark, and handsome” trope.
In fact, we rarely got to see his real personality. The majority of his season focused on the petty drama between the women fighting for his heart. It’s normal for each season to have a “bad guy/girl,” but it seemed like every week another girl was problematic. Meaningful conversations held between James and his date for the week were constantly overshadowed by the chaos in the house. The final edits of each week’s show failed to communicate the connections James was making and depicted a lack of depth in his relationships. His conversations pale in comparison to the one’s held months before by Tayshia, who was the previous Bachelorette lead. In her season, each contestant poured out their heart and dug deep into their life’s story.
The deepest conversation we did see was between James and his father. The two do not have a strong relationship and the show capitalized on their strenuous interaction. Don’t get me wrong, the conversation needed to be had. However, did so much of it need to be shown on national television? As their talk got more and more intense, it felt painful and awkward to watch. It was like getting a live look into their therapy sessions. Thankfully, it ended with a hug and his father apologizing. My face was stunned up until the show hit commercial break. Why did this conversation come so late during the season? James mentioned that this was the first of many more conversations to come. No wonder it was so emotional, it was one of the first times they’ve talked since his father left his life when he was a child.
Unfortunately, the next conversations are even worse. Half way through the season a TikTok is posted unearthing comments and racist Instagram posts made by the contestant, Rachael Kirkconnell. She is accused of bullying women she knew who dated Black men, appropriating Indigenous cultures for her Halloween costume, and is pictured in colonial attire attending a fraternity’s “Old South Antebellum party” back in 2018. It is also heavily anticipated that she is the season winner. As a result, all hell breaks loose.
Chris Harrison, the show’s host, comes to the defense of Kirkconnell during an interview held by the first Black bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay. His defense only fueled the fire. Stating, “Well, Rachel, is it a good look in 2018 or is it not a good look in 2021?” Lindsay responds, “It’s not a good look ever.” Later on he says, “Fifty million people did that in 2018. Does that make it ok? I don’t know Rachel, you tell me?…Is it wrong?… The woke police are out there.” Harrison visibly seemed annoyed and frustrated about all the attention Kirkconnell was receiving. He took out his emotions onto Lindsay and gaslighted her opinions on the issue.
Following the interview, Lindsay received death threats and hate comments from Bachelor Fans. She temporarily deleted her social media presence and took a break from the situation. In her absence, past contestants and leads spoke out against Harrison’s statements, Lindsay’s treatment, and the state of the Bachelor franchise. This season the franchise took a major step towards diversity and inclusivity having a Black lead, the highest number of contestants of color on the show, and a contestant with a hearing disability. However, this explosive discovery exposed the ignorance within the franchise and how inadequately prepared they were to handle sensitive topics.
The events of this season makes me wonder whether or nor James was set up? I know the contestants undergo a rigorous process to be selected onto the show, but does that not include searching through their social media? No one is perfect and we are all ignorant in some areas, however, if they would have found Rachael’s past before the show, they could have addressed it properly and used it as an opportunity to also educate their viewers some of which have backgrounds similar to Rachael’s.
Overall, to some extent I believe James was set up and in other areas he was not. They definitely dimmed his personality through the way they edited the show and failed to highlight who he was before the show. It was like he popped up out of nowhere to date these women. Also, it wasn’t necessary for viewers to see that much of his sensitive conversation with his father. It was nice to see James vulnerable, but it was overwhelming for viewers to experience. On the other hand, he was not set up because all the choices that he made throughout the show were his. He chose to fall in love with Rachael. If anything, the producers set themselves up. They showcased that they have a long way to go to truly appeal to diverse audiences without triggering them.