From roses to thorns, the reputation of ABC’s reality TV show, “The Bachelor,” was scratched this season after featuring Matt James as the first Black bachelor, causing students of color to raise questions about racial equity and representation in the media.
Senior Caitlyn Kumi has watched "The Bachelor," a show that began in 2002, on and off this season — but her opinion about the implications of choosing James as this season’s Bachelor has remained constant.
“I think there's always going to be an advancement of culture just with having representation and recognition, because Black love is not always necessarily portrayed,” Kumi said. “It is pretty remarkable regardless because 50, 60 years ago it wouldn't be possible to have an interracial dating show, and I think that the representation of women of different backgrounds is also good, because historically what we usually see love stories or love shows from is the white male or white female gaze.”
While Kumi emphasized the importance of this representation, she believes that the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement was the major catalyst for James' casting, rather than the show taking accountability on their own.
“I think it’s just that with everything that happened over the summer, and then how consumers of television shows are just kind of demanding more diversity of the networks, I think that’s more of the changing climate in America, rather than the show recognizing that they need to do anything,” Kumi said.
First-year Yonas Kemal emphasized that James was chosen more out of societal pressure than a positive internal agenda.
“I think it's good, obviously, that they have a Black bachelor, though I think that it is reactive rather than proactive, 100 percent,” Kemal said. “I think a year's worth of protests and social uprisings probably led to their decision of having one.”
Aside from increased racial awareness, Kemal said he thinks that part of the reason that "The Bachelor" hasn’t featured a Black man as the bachelor before is because the show's target audience is white women.
“In terms of creating racial equity on the show, I don’t even think that’s necessarily possible because of the target market for that show,” Kemal said. “... So what market are you really trying to hit? Middle-aged White women. And who would they rather see on the show? People who resemble themselves.”
This highly catered audience is not the only problem with the show, both students said. This season, long-standing host Chris Harrison temporarily stepped down after defending past racist comments and actions by "The Bachelor" contestant Rachael Kirkconnell.
UNC graduate and 2021 candidate Khaylah Epps was unable to interview under contract, but expressed feelings of frustration toward Harrison’s behavior in a recent tweet.
“Yesterday was incredibly upsetting,” Epps tweeted. “To see someone do straight up gymnastics to try and excuse racist behavior is inexcusable and a direct slap in the face.”
Kemal said that ABC should have made a higher effort to screen contestants before allowing them to be a part of such a revolutionary season.
“As a show, I think they had a responsibility to really look at their pasts and make sure that there isn’t anything that conflicts with the narrative that they’re trying to portray,” Kemal said. “Because that just comes back to bite them, as it did now.”
Kumi also said the directors need to do a better job vetting the people they allow to participate, but raised the question of the intentionality of choosing a contestant with a racist past.
“If they knew that was the case and they selected these people because they would evoke more ratings, I think there needs to be some re-evaluation,” Kumi said. “Is it worth bringing attention to racist behavior all in the name of ratings?”
With many followers of "The Bachelor" putting a magnifying glass to the show’s past, Kumi said it’s more important than ever that everyone who represents the brand is adequately educated.
“From some of these situations with Chris Harrison, it was clear it’s not even lack of awareness, it's just ignorance at that point,” Kumi said. “So making sure that everyone who represents the brand has this diversity, equity and inclusion training so they’re aware of the history and the impact of the brand. You can’t help where you’re born but you can choose to educate yourself.”
Looking forward, Kemal said one way "The Bachelor" can better their show is by pushing for a new, more inclusive target audience.
“I think over time, there definitely can be a way to make it seem a little more representative of the actual dating scheme of America,” Kemal said. “It’s not just a straight white man dating a straight white woman. I feel like by somewhat including various different ethnicities and backgrounds and even sexual orientations, they could really harness a whole new target market.”
Outside of just "The Bachelor," Kemal said he predicts that there will be a public reckoning for more diversity in all areas of the entertainment industry.
“I think in reality TV and in everything in the show business, from plays on Broadway to big Blockbuster movies, there’s going to be a push for POC actors and actresses, directors, writers and artists to have an equitable chance at even getting to those stages,” Kemal said. “There’s the conversation about the barriers that they face even getting there in the first place, and then actually being represented in a fair light is a whole different conversation.”
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