Bachelor producers issued a response after failing to answer a question about how the franchise has previously handled issues surrounding race and diversity.
During a Television Critics Association panel on Saturday, February 10, executive producers Jason Ehrlich, Claire Freeland and Bennett Graebner were asked about the multiple controversies surrounding past Black cast members.
“During Matt James’ season, you had a controversy that led to Chris Harrison leaving the show. Matt was a little critical of how you presented his father. Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette, has been critical of how the show talks about race,” NPR journalist Eric Deggans began on Saturday. “Why does it seem that The Bachelor and The Bachelorette have such a hard time dealing with racial issues? Have you learned anything from these past scandals that led to the departure of Chris Harrison?”
Freeland, who joined the Bachelor franchise in 2023 after previously working on the Canadian iteration, responded after a long pause, saying, “I can speak to where we are now. Our goal is to represent the fabric of the country, not just in terms of diversity and ethnicity, but also ability and body types and representing where people are from in the country as well.”
She continued: “I can speak for the seasons that I have been on. I think, so far, we’ve been putting our money where our mouth is. This is something that we’re always working on, and we’ll continue to do so moving forward.”
When Ehrlich and Graebner, who have worked on the Bachelor franchise since 2004 and 2008, respectively, didn’t elaborate, Deggans followed up again.
“That doesn’t really answer the question. Why has The Bachelor struggled to deal with race, particularly when Black people are the star of the show?” he asked while waiting for someone on the stage to respond. When no one did, Deggans said, “I guess we have our answer.”
After the TCA discussion sparked backlash, the three producers spoke out about how unscripted TV has struggled to address racial issues in the past.
“I was there for Matt James’ season. I was there for Rachel Lindsay’s season. I was also there for Michelle Young’s season, Tayshia Adams’ season, Charity Lawson’s season,” Graebner told Decider on Saturday, shortly after the controversial TCA panel. “I think as stewards of this franchise, which has been such a part of the cultural zeitgeist for over two decades, there’s a tremendous responsibility to have conversations on camera that are difficult and challenging — conversations about race, conversations about class, conversations about gender.”
Graebner noted that ABC remains committed to discussing how race plays a role when it comes to The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise, adding, “We have done that. Have we always done it perfectly? No. We’ve certainly made some mistakes along the way. But moving forward, we’re going to do everything in our power to correct this.”
The Bachelor franchise previously came under fire when Harrison, 52, supported contestant Rachael Kirkconnell as she made headlines for racially insensitive photos. After he was pulled from hosting James’ After the Final Rose special in February 2021, Harrison confirmed four months later that he would be departing the franchise permanently.
Harrison has since been replaced by Jesse Palmer. ABC viewers, however, have continued to point out how Black franchise stars have said they felt pressure to lead a season without the proper support.
Lindsay, 38, wrote an essay about her experience for New York magazine in June 2021.
“I had to be a good Black girl, an exceptional Black girl. I had to be someone the viewer could accept. And I was a token until I made sure I wasn’t,” she recalled. “The thing is, the day I went on the show, I didn’t wake up and say, ‘You know what? I’m going to start standing up for myself.’ I was taught at a very young age to speak up about injustices. It was no different with Bachelor Nation. And I don’t think they ever saw it coming.”
James, 32, meanwhile, admitted he didn’t realize how historic his season would be.
“I didn’t accept the role to be the savior. My sole focus was finding someone that I could spend the rest of my life with and fall in love with and just looking for that in my life because I was missing it,” he exclusively told Us Weekly in May 2022. “And it wasn’t until after I accepted it that I really felt the weight of, you know, everyone’s expectations on my journey. And I’m like, ‘I wonder if anyone else has felt this stepping into a role like this.’ And they hadn’t because it was at the right time in the country where we were going through everything that we were going through from a racial standpoint — [and] still are going through.”
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