‘The Bachelor’ Producers Address Franchise’s ‘Inexcusable’ Lack of Diversity

Chris Harrison Bachelor Rachael Kirkconnell Controversial Actions Matt James

Matt James and Rachael Kirkconnell.
ABC/Craig Sjodin

The Bachelor’s executive producers Claire Freeland and Bennett Graebner are getting candid about the franchise’s “inexcusable” historic lack of racial diversity.

“It’s hard to say out loud, that people of color didn’t see themselves represented, that they did not see The Bachelor franchise as a safe place,” Graebner said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times published on Wednesday, June 26.

“We didn’t have a Black lead in this franchise for 15 years, and that’s inexcusable. It created a vicious cycle, and it’s taken a lot of work to get back to a place where we feel at least we’re working for the positive,” the producer added.

The Bachelor introduced its first Black lead in 2021 when Matt James searched for love on season 25 of the ABC reality dating show. However, James’ season was mired in controversy when photos emerged of contestant — and eventual winner — Rachael Kirkconnell attending an antebellum-themed college party in 2018. (James and Kirkconnell are still together.)

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The franchise faced even more backlash when former host Chris Harrison appeared to defend Kirkconnell in a fiery interview with former Bachelorette star Rachel Lindsay on Extra. He subsequently left the show.

Rachel Lindsay

Rachel Lindsay
ABC/Craig Sjodin

“I’m going to be really frank — we let Matt down,” Graebner candidly told the Los Angeles Times. “That season went wrong on so many levels. We did not protect him as we should have. The finale of that season was the darkest day I’ve had on this franchise. Here was this great Black man, and we should have been celebrating his love story. Instead, what we saw was a man burdened and overwhelmed by issues of racism. It was really sad for me personally.”

Graebner and Freeland said it’s a “priority” to cast another Black lead in the future and correct some of the mistakes they made in season 25.

The Bachelorette, meanwhile, will have its first Asian lead in Jenn Tran — who is Vietnamese — when the show returns on July 8.

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Jenn Tran
Disney/John Fleenor

The franchise’s producers are holding their hands up over the lack of Asian representation in the past.

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“That’s on us. We didn’t do what we needed to do. Our hope is that they will see Jenn and realize this is a safe space. We’re not saying it will solve and fix everything. But it is a step,” said Graebner.

“We had extensive discussions with Jenn prior to filming,” Freeland added. “She is proud of her Vietnamese culture and she wanted to know if she could speak about that. We told her we wanted her to be her most authentic self.”

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