The producers of ABC's "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" are always chasing drama – just not when it involves them.
Season 20 of "The Bachelor," starring 27-year-old Ben Higgins, aired its finale Monday night, with Higgins choosing contestant Lauren Bushnell over Jojo Fletcher.
Jubilee Sharpe, the 24-year-old African American war veteran from Florida, seemed to be liked by fans – and by Ben – early in the season, but the show (whether in reality or through editing) quickly turned against her.
“A Black woman being vulnerable and awkward is something that is rarely presented in media and entertainment,” Nichelle Stephens writes for Medium. “However, it was stressful watching the episode.” The “racial microaggressions” directed at Jubilee from the other female contestants contradicted any added value from Jubilee’s "realness" as a contestant, argues Stephens.
Some contestants on recent seasons have openly questioned their status as the show’s ‘token minority.’
“It’s crazy to think that the first thing people are gonna recognize about me is, ‘Ok, he’s a black guy.’ And that’s the reality of it,” Marquel Martin, a fan favorite on the 10th season of "The Bachelorette," starring Andi Dorfman, says to the camera during the show. “It’s not like, ‘Hey, that dude’s a good dude, he was respectful, I’m sure he was raised right, I’m sure he has strong beliefs.’ It would be nice to not be seen as just, ‘Hey this is the black guy.’”
After Martin was eliminated by the bachelorette in episode five, social media began campaigning for the 28-year-old salesman to be the star of the next season of "The Bachelor."
“Not only does having a more diverse cast make for far more interesting television, but the outpouring of social media love for Marquel over the last few episodes proves that a man of color as "The Bachelor" is pretty damn marketable,” remarks Emma Gray, Women’s Editor at The Huffington Post.
But fellow contestant Chris Soules, the 33-year-old farmer from Iowa, won the title, starring in season 19 of "The Bachelor."
“The most important and obvious elephant in the room that remains to be an underlying concern for some, is the question of will there ever be a black ‘Bachelor’ or ‘Bachelorette’?” Martin writes in a blog post shortly after his friend Soules was selected. “Let me be clear, I’m not trying to be that guy. But I’d be lying to myself and the world if I didn’t say that I feel like race played a large factor in this decision.”
And in recent seasons, some observers have noted what they say ABC's self-deprecating openness about the show’s inherent racism.
“It’s apparent that this season ‘The Bachelor’ made a choice to play up the coded comments made about Jubilee by other contestants rather than gearing the storyline in other directions,” says The Huffington Post’s Claire Fallon. “The production team have more than enough material to work with, and in the past, as black contestants faded or burned out, there’s been reason to wonder whether the show wasn’t obscuring in-house bigotry or other pressures that contributed to their emotional twists and turns.”
But it’s unclear whether this attitude is voluntary, considering the highly-publicized class action lawsuit against the show’s producers in 2012.
Two African American "Bachelor" wannabes from Nashville filed a class action lawsuit against ABC, accusing the show and its producers of intentionally excluding people of color from lead roles. While a judge called the plantiffs' efforts ‘laudable,’ she also deemed their lawsuit invalid because casting decisions are protected are under the First Amendment.
In 2011, there were no minority candidates in either "The Bachelor" or "The Bachelorette." And in 2012, the shows had one and two minority candidates, respectively.
After the lawsuit, 2013 had a record-setting number of minority candidates – six – on both of the shows. But all subsequent seasons have dipped back down between one and three minority candidates, suggesting the show is falling back into its old patterns.
ABC executives have spent the last few months promising viewers that the next star of the show would be "diverse," but it was announced Monday night that runner-up JoJo Fletcher would be the next "Bachelorette."