What a hectic few weeks it has been for Bachelor Nation. Matt James’ season has been a dramatic one from day one and is sure to leave a lasting impact on the franchise, even after the final rose. After years of underrepresenting minorities on the show and continuing to give platforms to problematic contestants, the franchise finally took a step in the right direction (even if it was the bare minimum) by finally casting its first Black male lead. After years of discussion from prominent watchers and commenters, backlash from bypassing a worthy contender (Mike still has many viewers’ support), and the resurgence of attention and conversation about racial injustice in the summer of 2020, the franchise seemed to finally start listening to viewers’ desires.
After all of the hype and conversation about this move, it’s no wonder that a record number of applications flooded in to be a part of Matt James’ season. As a result, this season boasts the most diverse cast in Bachelor history, with almost 66% of the women in the season identifying as women of color as well as featuring the show’s first deaf contestant, Abigail. It seemed like the franchise was acting on their commitment to expand the diversity of relationships shown through the series. There was so much to be excited for with this season.
The season premiere seemed promising, showcasing a beautifully diverse cast. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the other shoe dropped.
Instead of continuing to genuinely introduce viewers to these amazing women and allow us to receive the diverse representation we asked for, the season turned to focus on drama, bullying, and immature behavior within the cast. Drama is of course inevitable for any season of the show, but this season truly exploited every moment it could, overshadowing any opportunities to truly get to know the women on the season.
To add insult to injury, this focus on drama had a clear impact on the screen time given to POC contestants. On Instagram, @bachelordata has compiled statistics showing the screen time each woman receives weekly and posted an analysis on how they depart from the franchise’s previous commitment to diversity.
The 6 women receiving the most screen time in episodes 1-6 were white women, with only one of them still appearing on the season (Rachael Kirkconnell, who we’ll discuss more later). On top of that, the woman with the highest amount of screen time in that episode span received double the amount of screen time as Bri, the woman of color with the most screen time. The Bachelor franchise took the first step of bringing more diverse women to the table for this season, but is continuing to fail them by not giving them the same opportunities to be showcased in episodes. If the show is truly committed to making progress in inclusivity, these kinds of patterns need to be addressed and production behaviors need to change to better serve POC in the franchise.
Outside of the way the most diverse cast of the franchise is being shown in episodes, the franchise has carried out an even more egregious act regarding allegations against a current contestant, Rachael Kirkconnell. At the beginning of the season, allegations regarding multiple racist actions on the part of Kirkconnell have come to light, including bullying, cultural appropriation, and most popularly, attending an Old South Antebellum party in 2018. Conversations about the unacceptability of these actions happened on many social media platforms, with commenters continuously raising the question of why Kirkconnell hadn’t made an effort to respond to them. For two months, Rachael and the producers of The Bachelor were silent on the matter.
It wasn’t until a fateful interview between Chris Harrison and Rachel Lindsay, that the matter was first addressed and the downward spiral of Bachelor Nation’s regard for the franchise accelerated. In the interview, the former Bachelorette questioned the show’s longtime host about Kirkconnell’s lack of response and the franchise not addressing the situation. The stance that Chris Harrison took on the matter was overwhelmingly inappropriate, insensitive, and defensive. He victimized Rachael Kirkconnell, grasping for ways to defend her actions and deny the issues with them. He labeled those asking for accountability as the “woke police”, attacking a “poor little girl” (who, mind you, was an adult at the time of the event).
After this inexcusable downplay of racist actions and disregard for the harm done to BIPOC individuals through them, Bachelor viewers and alumni alike took to social media to denounce the host’s actions and advocate for the franchise to do better. The casts of Matt James’ and Tayshia Adams’ seasons released public statements doing the same. Many POC associated with the franchise spoke out about the hurt and disappointment they’ve experienced throughout this ordeal, with Rachel Lindsay being further moved toward ending her affiliation. This past week, Chris Harrison announced he would be taking time away from the franchise, as calls for his permanent removal surged.
For many, this step is not enough to begin to rectify the wrongs of the franchise. Official acknowledgment of every failure on the part of the franchise is a past due action item, and there is an immediate necessity for extreme change to occur within it if it wants to retain and expand its audience in the future. Ahead of its most diverse season, promises were made to better serve its POC and hope for improvement within Bachelor Nation surged. The Bachelor, disappointingly, is continuing to fail.