9:48am PT by Jackie Strause
'The Bachelor' Backlash: Franchise Stars Speak Out After Chris Harrison Interview
The stars of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, along with their respective casts, are advocating for change and accountability amid a growing franchise controversy that has only gotten louder following a controversial interview with Chris Harrison, the host of the ABC reality juggernaut.
On Tuesday, Harrison began to receive backlash over an Extra interview conducted by correspondent Rachel Lindsay, who was the franchise's first Black Bachelorette when she led her cycle in 2017 and continues to work with the show — including co-hosting a franchise-sponsored podcast, Bachelor Happy Hour, with fellow Bachelorette alum Becca Kufrin.
When Lindsay asked Harrison to weigh in on the allegations of racism that were surrounding Rachael Kirkconnell, who is a frontrunner on Matt James' currently airing season of The Bachelor, Harrison refused to denounce her racially insensitive behavior. At the time, Kirkconnell herself had not yet spoken out to verify the revealed online activity, but a resurfaced photo of the Georgia native attending an "Old South" plantation-themed college party in 2018 was proving to be especially problematic.
"Well, Rachel, is it a good look in 2018, or is it not a good look in 2021? Because there’s a big difference," Harrison told Lindsay of the outcry over the photo, taken in her recent past. "Where is this lens we’re holding up and was this lens available, and were we all looking through it in 2018?"
Harrison received swift criticism over the 13-minute interview and quickly released a statement on social media, apologizing to Lindsay for not "listening to her better on a topic she has a first-hand understanding of" and for "wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism."
Lindsay, who has been a vocal alum when it comes to holding the franchise accountable, took to her non-franchise sponsored podcast, Higher Learning for The Ringer, the following day to delve into the problematic issues with her face-to-face with Harrison.
"I had to stay calm because I needed people to see and hear what was happening in that interview," she told co-host Van Lathan of the video, which Extra posted in full and unedited on their YouTube channel. "The things that were boiling to me the most were the compassion and the grace and the space that Chris Harrison wanted to give to Rachael [Kirkconnell], but couldn’t give it to this Rachel in the interview. ... The other thing that really got to me was when he said, and I have the quote: 'Who are you? Who is Rachel Lindsay? Who is Chris Harrison? Who are we?’ Basically, saying, ‘Who are we to tell her when she should apologize? Who are we to tell her that we’re offended?' Do you understand how problematic that is?"
She continued, "What I wanted to shout in that conversation is: You’re right Chris Harrison. Who are you? Who are you to say something because you aren’t the person who’s been offended by the very actions that she is affiliated with, by the things that she’s done. Who is Rachel Lindsay? Rachel Lindsay is a Black woman, the very person who is affected by this Rachael Kirkconnell. So, I have every right to speak out and say I’m offended. I have every right to say, ’This is what she should do.’ And, I have every right to demand the apology."
Lindsay went on to say that she believes the franchise has a race problem, and questioned why Harrison didn't sit through the diversity training that was conducted by ABC. She also questioned her future involvement with the franchise, noting of her frustrations, "I can't take it anymore."
For James' historic season — he is the first Black Bachelor in the hit show's 19 years — the franchise brought in a diversity team to work with the talent and crew. Those changes were followed by the franchise hiring more producers of color and casting more contestants of color, a long-awaited shift that came in wake of 2020's racial reckoning. The 2020 cycle of The Bachelorette was led by Clare Crawley, who is Latina, and Tayshia Adams, the franchise's first Latina and Black star; and James' contestants are the most diverse cast in the history of the show.
As Lindsay was recording her podcast, Kirkconnell was finally releasing her own statement on social media. The lengthy post, which came on Thursday night, acknowledged that her "ignorance was racist." In her statement, she apologized to the communities and individuals who were harmed by her actions and said she is "learning and will continue to learn how to be antiracist." Adding, "I want to put my energy towards preventing people from making the same offensive mistakes that I made in the first place, and I hope I can prove this to you moving forward."
Most noteworthy, however, was what Kirkconnell did after she released her statement.
Later that night, she posted to her Instagram Stories a joint statement from all the women of her season. The cast of James' 25th season of The Bachelor released the statement to "denounce any defense of racism" and stand by Lindsay after her interview with Harrison. Many of the women shared the words to their social media, which highlighted how "twenty-five women who identify as BIPOC were cast on this historic season that was meant to represent change."
The following morning, the men from the cast of Crawley and Adams' season of The Bachelorette followed suit and released their own joint social media statement to say the same. "We had the opportunity to be a part of one of the most diverse casts in the history of the franchise,” they noted. "We stand united in denouncing any racist behavior and any defense thereof. We also stand united with the women of Season 25 of The Bachelor, who have denounced the same; moreover, we stand united with Rachel Lindsay, who has led the way."
Then on Friday night, the historic Black leads from those respective casts weighed in.
Adams, who took over from Crawley midway through the 2020 cycle of The Bachelorette, shared her thoughts on her Instagram Stories as well as on her franchise-sponsored podcast that she co-hosts, Click Bait with Bachelor Nation. "I am not aligned with these actions and I know my co-hosts aren't either," she said of the recording.
"I am really hurt and disappointed and confused at the ignorance when it comes to race," she added on the Instagram video. "The things that have come to light within the Bachelor franchise this past week have just been eye-opening. And I want to talk about the interview that was had between Rachel Lindsay and Chris Harrison regarding some of the actions from a current contestant, Rachael Kirkconnell. The photo that she was in is racist. The party that she attended: racist. Her actions have been racist. When there are blatant forms of racist acts, you cannot be defensive of it. It speaks volumes. And I just have to say, I am really hurt by this response."
She continued, "I just really hope that in regards to change and trying to do better that every positive step isn't met with two steps back, because that's how it feels like it's going. And it does not feel good. But I also want to acknowledge everybody that has formed together from the franchise and has stood up and said something. I see you. I hear you. I thank you. I appreciate you. Let's do better."
Also on Friday night, James shared a post from Lindsay on his Instagram Stories with the note: "I am beyond grateful to have Rachel as a mentor during this season. Your advocacy of BIPOC people in the franchise is invaluable, I stand with you and the rest of the women advocating for change and accountability."
James had told The Hollywood Reporter that he leaned on Lindsay in preparation for his season. He said the attorney and media personality, who faced similar pressures during her unprecedented starring turn, gave him the best advice: "Some of the best advice that she gave me was just to be yourself and don’t try to please anybody else, because you never will. That sounds like a simple thing to say, but it’s real. And that’s what I doubled down on."
Crawley, in her statement posted to her Instagram Stories, expressed disappointment with the Harrison interview and shared her support for Lindsay. "I haven't known the right words to express my extreme disappointment with Chris and Rachel's interview. I have been really understanding the magnitude of how racist behavior and racism impacts our society and perpetuates ignorance and oppression," she wrote. "I have been listening to conversations and discussions as an ally and will always continue to learn, denounce and support BIPOC in the fight against racism."
She added specifically to Lindsay: "You are a force of strength, empowerment and composure as you have continually shown up as a voice to create change not only within this franchise, but far beyond. You are not alone."
On Saturday morning, Harrison released a lengthy statement to his Instagram where he announced that he would be stepping aside for "a period of time" after speaking with ABC and show producers Warner Bros. TV. The longtime host noted that his departure means he will not be hosting the upcoming After the Final Rose live finale special for James' season.
"This historic season of The Bachelor should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions," the veteran host and producer of the ABC reality franchise said in his post. "I am dedicated to getting educated on a more profound and productive level than ever before. I want to ensure our cast and crew members, to my friends, colleagues and our fans: this is not just a moment, but a commitment to much greater understanding that I will actively make every day."
Lindsay has clarified that there is nothing in the contestant contracts that prevents them from taking to social media while the show is airing, but James and his cast speaking out is noteworthy. Typically, contestants do not weigh in on off-camera drama until after their elimination, or they reserve their comments for a special taping that airs later in the season. There are exceptions; most notably, when 2018's The Bachelorette winner Garrett Yrigoyen found himself under fire over offensive Instagram activity early on in his season. (The controversy ended up trailing him until the finale, where he got engaged to Kufrin; the pair split in 2020.)
The year of 2020 was meant to mark a shift for the ABC franchise. In the fall, ABC had put in place a detailed new set of inclusion standards to ensure the network's programming and sets would accurately reflect society — including resources, training and goals for inclusive hiring.
After resuming production amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, both of the subsequent The Bachelorette and The Bachelor cycles were celebrated for their steps in diversifying the show both on and off camera. The Bachelorette season produced two mixed race couples (Crawley and winner Dale Moss have since split, but Adams and her winner, Zac Clark, remain together) and aired conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement; and The Bachelor has aired authentic conversations about race, including James discussing his biracial upbringing.
Weeks remain until the finale of The Bachelor. With the Women Tell All reunion show already filmed, the After the Final Rose special remains the only currently programmed live show remaining in the season. The Bachelorette did not air a live portion of its finale due to production restrictions amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Feb. 13, 12 p.m. This story has been updated to include Harrison's statement on stepping aside.