NEW YORK (Reuters) – ABC Television’s long-running dating competition show “The Bachelor” said on Friday that North Carolina native Matt James will become the show’s first black contestant its 25-season history.
“We know we have a responsibility to make sure the love stories we’re seeing onscreen are representative of the world we live in, and we are proudly in service to our audience,” Karey Burke, president of Walt Disney Co-owned, said in a statement.
James was named after criticism from former “Bachelorette” star Rachel Lindsay, who is black, threatened to disassociate from the franchise if it did not increase its diversity. In a blog post on Monday, Lindsay said there are “deep-rooted, 18-year systemic problems in this franchise.”
Lindsay was chosen as the first, and so far only, black lead contestant on sister show “The Bachelorette” in 2017.
“I have always been vocal about the problematic behavior of the franchise and their failure to address their diversity issues; but I stayed with the franchise to be a voice on the inside to push for change,” Lindsay said in her post.
An online petition also called on ABC to cast more people of color, and advocates have renewed calls on Hollywood to increase diversity onscreen and off in wake of Black Lives Matter protests over the killing of George Floyd.
James is a real estate broker and graduate of Wake Forest University who now lives in New York City. He had been scheduled to appear this year on “The Bachelorette” as a contestant.
When filming of “The Bachelorette” was halted due to coronavirus, ABC approached him about taking on the role of “The Bachelor” instead, Burke said.
Season 25 of the “The Bachelor” starring James is set to air in 2021.
Reporting by Arriana McLymore; Editing by Richard Chang