NEW YORK (AP) — ABC has named Matt James, its first black “Bachelor” to lead the network’s long-running dating competition show, a move long sought by critics of the series’ lack of diversity among its leading men.
The casting was announced Friday on “Good Morning America.”
James, a 28-year-old from North Carolina, was originally chosen to compete for Clare Crawley’s affection on “The Bachelorette,” but filming was scrapped in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Good Morning America” says James founded an organization in New York City that finds creative ways to engage children from underserved areas.
The show has been under pressure for years to be more diverse and cast a black “Bachelor.” A lawsuit filed in 2012 claimed the show was blocking contestants of color from starring roles. The case was dismissed on First Amendment grounds.
Until now, Rachel Lindsay was the only African American to be cast as a lead in the franchise’s 18-year history when she was named “The Bachelorette” in 2017. Lindsay has criticized the show publicly for not doing enough to increase diversity both in front of and behind the camera.
“This is something that ‘Bachelor’ fans have wanted and asked for a very long time,” said Charli Penn, relationships and wellness director at Essence. “It wasn’t a new request. It’s a long overdue request. That franchise has not represented the diversity of its fanbase. One of the things I think people find surprising is they say ‘Oh, black people don’t watch ‘The Bachelor.’ But yes, we do.”
Penn called James’ selection a positive move for the popular dating show. She thinks having a black leading man could pique new interest from some people of color.
“Everybody wants to see themselves in their favorite show,” she said. “They want to see their lives, their love lives and stories reflected. Especially on a show that everyone is watching.”
On Friday, James said he was optimistic.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said on “Good Morning America,” adding, “I don’t think there’s a wrong time to do the right thing.”
“The Bachelor” is expected to return in 2021.
James is a former collegiate and professional athlete. He played wide receiver at Wake Forest University, before he had a couple of minicamp tryouts with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.
His friend and business partner Tyler Cameron, a contestant on “The Bachelorette,” congratulated him on social media.
“This is all a testament of who you are as a person,” said Cameron, who played football with James at Wake Forest. “Now the world gets to see the person you are and the heart you have. You can change the world. Proud of you and so excited for you.”