Well, it took 15 years and 33 seasons, but ABC’s The Bachelor franchise has finally cast its first nonwhite Bachelorette.
Rachel Lindsay was officially announced as the series’ next leading lady and first black Bachelorette on Monday’s episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live. The news might’ve been surprising to fans of The Bachelor, since Lindsay is still competing on the show’s currently airing season with a month to go before the finale. (The current theory for this unusually early rollout of the franchise’s next season, which frequently happens in concert with the season finale, is that Reality Steve — a Bachelor connoisseur who peddles spoilers for a living — broke the Rachel Lindsay news too early for ABC to ignore.)
Still, it’s kind of a relief to know that Lindsay — a charming and self-assured attorney — managed to dodge the smarmy bullet that is current Bachelor Nick Viall, while also making television history.
The Bachelor and The Bachelorette deal in a very specific kind of drug: pure romantic fantasy, laced with occasional spikes of drama to keep things interesting outside the sweeping hot air balloon rides and tearjerking breakup stories over candlelit rose petals. But that fantasy has never featured a black person at its center calling the shots. Now, for the first time ever, it will give a black woman the right to send home whiny software execs when they get champagne-drunk at the petting zoo group date.
The Bachelor franchise has a long, fraught history of casting overwhelmingly white contestants
Ever since The Bachelor premiered in 2002, the ensuing The Bachelor/Bachelorette/Bachelor Pad franchise — what a phrase! — has been a notoriously white one. As Andrew Gruttadaro points out at the Ringer, there’ve only been 65 nonwhite contestants throughout almost 15 years of the franchise, which now spans 12 seasons of The Bachelorette and 21 seasons of The Bachelor.
And as Molly Fitzpatrick noted at Fusion in early 2016, almost 60 percent of the black contestants who’d appeared on the shows to date were eliminated within two weeks. The franchise was even sued for discrimination in 2012 by two black men who had auditioned for The Bachelor, though that suit was eventually dismissed thanks to ABC’s argument that even if the network were discriminating against people of color — which it swears it’s not, your honor — its casting choices are protected under the First Amendment.
The fact that there’s been exactly one nonwhite Bachelor throughout the franchise’s 15-year history — Venezuelan-American Juan Pablo Galavis in 2014, who ultimately courted controversy by remarking that a gay Bachelor would set a bad example for kids — has long been a sore subject for America’s favorite background noise for wine drinking. Even The Bachelor’s evil (scripted) twin, the Lifetime drama UnReal, managed to best the show that inspired it by casting the endlessly charismatic B.J. Britt as a black “suitor” (the show’s version of the Bachelor) for its second season last year.
It’s hard to say exactly what changed, or what went into the casting of Rachel Lindsay. Maybe the criticism got too loud to ignore. Maybe Channing Dungey — a longtime producer of Shonda Rhimes shows — becoming ABC’s first black woman president last year made diversifying the pool of contestants on one of the network’s most popular shows a higher priority. Maybe Lindsay was just too appealing of a choice to turn down.
It’s probably some combination of the above, but in any case, casting Lindsay brings The Bachelorette one significant step toward, you know, acknowledging that nonwhite women might also want the chance to be swooned and fought over by a herd of affable farmers on the beach.