On Friday, the ABC dating show announced its first black Bachelor, Matt James. The news came amid worldwide headlines about the Black Lives Matter movement, days after a petition was created calling for a black lead for The Bachelor's upcoming 25th season, and former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay's threat to leave the franchise if diversity wasn't improved. But according to ABC executive Rob Mills, none of those things had anything to do with why James was chosen to be the next Bachelor.
"It wasn’t a response to that. We could have made this announcement earlier or later," Mills told Variety. "Certainly no one is blind to what is happening in the world, so hopefully this announcement serves as a bit of optimism during a time that we can really use this, but I don’t want this to look like we’re patting ourselves on the back or taking a victory lap."
James' casting isn't a "cure-all" for the franchise's historic lack of diversity, Mills said. "Everyone agrees we can be doing better and we will work to do that," he promised. "I do think there have been some strides made -- small and maybe not enough, but there has been a commitment and that will continue."
"Everyone agrees we should have had a Bachelor of color before this time," Mills confessed, though he also declared that James wasn't cast in the lead role just because he's black. "What you never want is for somebody to feel like they are the Bachelor because they are checking off a box."
On Friday, host Chris Harrison also reacted to the news, tweeting: "Congrats Matt James! Our Bachelor family is thrilled to start this journey with our new Bachelor! We can and we will do better to portray diverse love stories that reflect the world around us. This is just the beginning."
Congrats Matt James! Our Bachelor family is thrilled to start this journey with our new Bachelor! We can and we will do better to portray diverse love stories that reflect the world around us. This is just the beginning pic.twitter.com/mI7mbR06zD
The Bachelor has cast two Hispanic men over it's 18-year history: Juan Pablo Galavis and Peter Weber. Weber's season featured the most diverse group of contestants, with about a third of the cast women of color. It was a large improvement from previous seasons of the dating series; its earliest seasons included just a handful of non-white women.
Earlier this week, Lindsay called for the Bachelor franchise to address its "systemic racism." She said she would cut ties with The Bachelor if they didn't overhaul their approach to diversity and representation.
The Bachelor Happy Hour podcast host called for the following changes: "1. Cast leads that are truly interested in dating outside of their race; 2. Stop making excuses for the lack of diversity and take action to rectify the problem; 3. Diversify the producers on the show to make your contestants of color feel more comfortable; and 4. Stop creating problematic story lines for people of color."
“It is hard not to feel bad because everybody within the show and at the network loves Rachel. We don't want her to be upset or to feel like more can be done. The best thing to do is listen to her, and take this seriously," Mills said. "We're so lucky to have her. But I don’t think it’s fair that the burden has been solely on her shoulders, and we’re going to do everything to make sure that it doesn’t stay that way."
"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," ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke said in a statement. "This is just the beginning, and we will continue to take action with regard to diversity issues on this franchise. We feel so privileged to have Matt as our first Black Bachelor and we cannot wait to embark on this journey with him."
In an interview with ET on Tuesday, Lindsay said that in order to stay with the franchise, she also needed to see a person of color cast as the Bachelor for season 25.
"Since the blog, no, I haven't heard from anyone," she said. "In the past week, yes. I have heard from an executive producer just saying that they hear me and they want to make changes."
"It does [feel good], but this isn't my first rodeo with hearing an executive producer say, 'We want to make some changes.' I believe you want to, or I used to believe you want to. But I'm not seeing anything," she added. "I've been affiliated with this franchise for almost four years and I hear you. But I'm not seeing any action behind those words."
Lindsay said she expected to see the franchise address her suggestions within the next week.
"I have talked to some producers and I have said that I'll leave if they don't make changes. So it's conditional, so I'm waiting to see what changes are made. To date, they haven't made any type of statement, which baffles me," she shared.
"So many companies have made statements in regard to what is happening in our country and I thought for sure we'll get [a statement from The Bachelor] before [The Greatest Seasons -- Ever!] airs, and we haven't," Lindsay said. "I'm trying to be patient and wait and give them an opportunity to respond and see how they respond. Then I'll make my decision [about whether to leave] after that."