ABC has selected Rachel Lindsay to appear on the network’s next season of the “Bachelorette” series, the first time that an African-American lead has been selected for either the long-running “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette” TV shows.
The “Bachelor” series debuted in 2002 and is currently airing its 21st season. Its counterpart, “The Bachelorette,” has aired for 12. Yet there has never before been a black bachelor or bachelorette.
In another unusual twist, the announcement about Ms. Lindsay is coming before the current season of "The Bachelor" staring Nick Viall, in which Lindsay is a current finalist, has concluded. Fan-favorites are often picked from "The Bachelor" or "The Bachelorette" to star as the next lead in the reality TV series.
"Bachelor Nation doesn't know how it all goes down yet, but as you'll surely see saying goodbye to Rachel was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life. I have met very few people who possess as much beauty, grace, and charisma as Rachel and after hearing that she'll be the next Bachelorette I couldn't be more excited," Mr. Viall said in an Instagram post.
The series first dipped its toe in the diversity pool by featuring fan-favorite Juan Puablo, whose family is from Venezuela, as the bachelor in 2013. But, despite his accented English, Mr. Puablo didn't look that much different from previous white, American bachelors.
And yet, even after 15 years, the franchise still attracts a substantial audience, with the program ranking at number 16 for the 2015-2016 TV season among viewers ages 18-49, a demographic that advertisers value.
In 2012, a class-action lawsuit was filed in US District Court after African-Americans Christopher Johnson and Nathaniel Claybrooks auditioned for “The Bachelorette” and said that the program was avoiding bringing people of color onto the program. A judge dismissed it.
As noted by Monitor writer Story Hinckley, the 2013 season of “The Bachelor,” which occurred following the lawsuit, had more contestants of color on the show than usual, with six women of color participating.
The Lifetime program “Unreal,” which centers on a “Bachelor”-like dating program from the vantage point of the producers behind the scenes, had a black bachelor on its fictional dating show in its second season, which aired in 2016.
Now the original “Bachelor” franchise is taking the step as well and many industry watchers seem to see the move as long overdue.
“It’s about time,” Joey Morona of The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote. “[Rachel] Lindsay's casting on ‘The Bachelorette’ is, frankly, a jolt of diversity the franchise needs.... The shows' practice of selecting previous cast members to lead the next season has limited the field of potential leads and provided a built-in excuse not to be more diverse. The notion, however, that people aren't attracted to and can't fall in the love with someone of a different race is an antiquated one....”
Meanwhile, Washington Post writer Emily Yahr noted, “While casting a black star of a prime-time network TV show shouldn’t be considered ‘historic’ in 2017, the franchise has been in an unflattering spotlight for many years for its glaring lack of diversity.”