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For the second time since his starring turn on The Bachelor, star Matt James took to his social media to speak out about the show on which he is airing.
“Tonight’s convo with my dad was hard to experience, and it’s just as hard to watch all this time later, especially knowing the world is watching with me,” the ABC reality star wrote in a Twitter thread Monday night, as the March 8 episode was airing on the East Coast. “I just wanted to say that too often, we see dangerous stereotypes and negative depictions of Black fathers in media. And they have consequences when presented without context. All I hope is that people watch that conversation with nuance, care, and also an understanding that there are real systemic issues at play. I’m so proud of myself for being vulnerable, and I’m so proud of my mother. I wouldn’t be who I am without my dad. That’s a fact.”
The conversation James was referring to was a sit-down with his estranged father, who appeared in the beginning of the traditional Fantasy Suites week of the dating competition, which sees the star go on overnight and off-camera dates with his finalists. When narrowed down to three women, James told the camera he needed to have a conversation with his dad to address his own insecurities around commitment before he could move forward with his journey and potentially get engaged.
Prior to the sit-down, viewers were privy to a brief history about his family. James has said on the show that he was raised by his mother after his parents divorced. During the intimate conversation, more was revealed between the pair as James confronted his father. “When I needed you, you weren’t there,” said the star. His father replied, “It wasn’t a good thing that I was cheating. I’m not proud of it.” Ultimately, his father apologized and the star accepted and forgave.
The scene prompted swift reaction online, including from franchise alum Rachel Lindsay, who has revealed that James was “uncomfortable” with the conversation airing, particularly given the current controversy swirling around the franchise about systemic racial problems.
“I know for a fact Matt was uncomfortable with this conversation and the fact that it was going to be aired,” said Lindsay on The Ringer‘s Bachelor Party podcast with host Juliet Litman. Lindsay, who also hosts a podcast for The Ringer (in addition to her Bachelor Nation show, Bachelor Happy Hour), said she was so enraged over the “perpetuation of stereotypes in the Black community” that she reached out to Litman to discuss the episode. Their conversation posted late Monday night. “We’re talking about certain stereotypes that have been perpetuated in this society when it comes to Black men, and The Bachelor put it front and center in the worst way tonight.”
In his Twitter thread, James had shared a resource from social justice communication lab The Opportunity Agenda and a piece titled, “Media Portrayals and Black Male Outcomes,” which explores the link between representations of Black men in media and public bias. In her discussion with Litman, Lindsay explained why the scene between James and his father was one that “should never have aired for America to see” on a franchise that she added is not “equipped” to have conversations about Black absentee fathers.
“If you know anything about stereotypes that are assigned to particular races — here, the Black race — you know that absentee fathers is a stereotype,” Lindsay said. “The stereotype of Black fathers being absentee and Black children being fatherless is deeply rooted in American society and the fact that we don’t know much about Matt — but what we do know is that he fits into one of these stereotypes that we have for Black people, people who assume certain things of the Black family — and now we meet his father for the first time, and he and Matt are having this full-out argument about how he wasn’t around.”
She continued, “This conversation may have been necessary for Matt. But this was a conversation that should have just been for Matt, not for the rest of the world to see. And it shows that you don’t care about your contestants, specifically the ones of color, the fact that you were more so willing to throw him under the bus and exploit him and stereotypes within the Black community for what you would call ‘good TV.'”
As a vocal Bachelorette alum, Lindsay has pushed the long-running hit franchise to make changes and has asked for accountability in wake of the recent firestorm, which was sparked by her February interview with franchise host Chris Harrison. After experiencing racism during her historic season as the first Black Bachelorette in 2017, the attorney and media personality has advocated for the ABC and Warner Bros.-produced show to diversify both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. Those calls grew louder in wake of the 2020 racial reckoning and resulted in James being named as the first Black Bachelor. Lindsay, who has welcomed James onto her Bachelor Happy Hour podcast, has spoken about helping to guide James through the pressures of being a historic lead.
One of the biggest calls to action that stars among Bachelor Nation have asked for amid the current dialogue surrounding race and the franchise is diversifying the decision-makers on the show. When speaking on Monday night, Lindsay hammered home that point.
“‘Who greenlit this?’ is the question. If you have diversity consultants affiliated that you keep telling us over and over about, and I even praised the fact that you had them, why are things like this still happening?” she asked, referencing the diversity team that was brought in as a resource for the 2020 Bachelorette and current Bachelor cycles. “If The Bachelor franchise has shown us anything, it’s that they don’t know how to protect people of color, they only know how to exploit them. They only know how to mishandle situations when they come to race, that’s what they’ve shown us time and time again.”
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to ABC and Warner Bros. TV for comment.
Typically, leads on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette reserve their commenting for the show stage, whether during the reunion or finale. (James’ After the Finale Rose special airs next week after the pre-taped finale.) James’ season, however, has been overshadowed by off-camera controversy that has become national news. In a previous statement, the star decided to speak out on social media to say that the postseason developments surrounding one of his finalists, Rachael Kirkconnell, and the resulting and ongoing fallout, caused him to “reevaluate and process what his experience on The Bachelor represents” as the first Black male lead.
Lindsay put her criticism over Monday’s episode in that larger context when speaking directly to the executive producers, the decision-makers, of the franchise.
“To add to it, everything that is surrounding the franchise right now, you still thought that you could talk about race when race is such a hot topic right now with The Bachelor and, not in a positive way, [but in] the way that you have handled and the way that people involved with your franchise, the way that they have mishandled it, they thought, ‘We’re going to redeem ourselves with this conversation.’ Terrible,” she said. “And this is why I always go back to this — you’ve got to have a person of color in the decision room. If I had been in there? Absolutely not.”
Previously on her Higher Learning podcast, Lindsay had suggested the franchise hit the pause button in order to fix its issues before moving ahead with the next season of The Bachelorette. That next cycle, however, is still set to go into production within the month, multiple sources have told THR. On Monday, Lindsay said the crew was already in the quarantine phase, as the season will again film in a bubble amid COVID-era production protocol.
“The fact that this historic season has been overshadowed with so much negativity and drama and talked about in an unprecedented way, for all the wrong reasons, is so bad,” Lindsay said on Bachelor Party when speaking to future contestants of color. “At this point, it’s like, do you have any hope that the franchise is going to be any different? What can you expect when you have people who haven’t had these experiences, who don’t look like these people, who are trying to tell their story? It’s coming from their perspective, and that’s not the right one.”
She then added, “It’s not just what Chris said, it’s the lingering impact of what he said and how it’s going to trickle down, and all people of color who were affected by the very words that he said.”
Lindsay had previously accepted Harrison’s apology after he went on ABC’s Good Morning America, where he also said that he “plans to be back” to the franchise. ABC and Warner Bros. have yet to announce if Harrison will return to host The Bachelorette, which also has yet to name its lead.
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