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matt james the bachelor season 25 2021 abc

Friday saw what will, hopefully, be the dawning of a new era when it comes to The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and all things Bachelor Nation. After the franchise got some strong criticism last week from former leads and contestants, like Rachel Lindsay, and fans who mobilized to start a petition to see diversity among the leads who get cast, Matt James, who was scheduled to be a suitor for Clare Crawley's upcoming season, is cast as lead for The Bachelor Season 25, which is slated to air in 2021. Now the producers have made a statement, and committed to address diversity issues going forward.

As we all know, the past few weeks have seen numerous protests over the murders of black citizens at the hands of police officers, and those protests have, in turn, led to a lot of larger conversations about racism and inequality in our society. More and more people are starting to understand that it's important to face, address and make serious efforts to change that inequality, wherever it is, even if it seems, at first, like the societal area where that inequality exists is unimportant. And, with 40 seasons across 18 years, and only one black lead under its belt, The Bachelor franchise is one of those areas.

In a statement which was posted to Chris Harrison's Twitter feed, the executive producers of The Bachelor let it be known that they are now interested in making the kind of changes that they should have been trying to make for years. Here's what they had to say:

We are excited to move forward with both Matt James as the new Bachelor and Clare Crawley as our next Bachelorette. We acknowledge our responsibility for the lack of representation of people of color on our franchise and pledge to make significant changes to address this issue moving forward. We are taking positive steps to expand diversity in our cast, in our staff, and most importantly, in the relationships that we show on television. We can and will do better to reflect the world around us and show all of its beautiful love stories.

When I heard that Matt James was cast as the next Bachelor last Friday I was not excited. It looked like inroads had been made when Rachel Lindsay was declared the Bachelorette in 2017, but fans will know that every season since then has still had a white lead. This was even true of this year's Bachelor, Peter Weber, when there was very strong fan support for Mike Johnson to get the lead in 2020, after his time as a suitor on Hannah Brown's Bachelorette season in 2019.

After Rachel's season, it seemed clear that the producers weren't interested in changing the way they did things, so many fans of color kept watching, likely out of habit, without any real hope that things would change. So, getting Matt as Bachelor in 2021 just felt as though they were throwing us another bone, without putting real effort into creating an environment that would lead to significant and lasting changes. Now, that the executive producers have put out this statement, though, I feel I can proceed with the franchise with more cautious optimism than before.

As with many television shows, part of the issue with casting isn't just in who tries to get on the show, but in who works behind the scenes. If you have a dozen producers / people helping to cast The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, but only two of those folks are people of color, the chances that there will be fairer representation on camera are going to be pretty low.

The same applies when it comes to the desire to see things change. If basically everyone is cool with the status quo, change won't happen. This statement makes it clear that those behind the show take responsibility for letting the franchise linger for 18 years with only one person of color in the lead, and they're vowing to make the kind of changes behind the scenes (which was one of the things the petition called for) that should keep us from looking back on the franchise in another 18 years and going, "Wait, have the only non-white leads been Rachel and Matt? How the fuck did this happen again?!"

So, with cautious optimism is how I will watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette in 2021. I need to see what happens beyond those seasons to tell if these folks are really, truly serious about their desire "to reflect the world around us and show all of its beautiful love stories." There's no reason why one season per year can't cast a lead of color. We need to see folks with Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Native American, Filipino, Caribbean and the wide variety of other cultures / ancestries who reside in this country as leads, and now that the producers seem to be on board, that shouldn't be an issue going forward.

The Bachelor: The Most Unforgettable – Ever! is airing right now on ABC, Mondays at 8 p.m. EST. For more to watch, check out our 2020 Netflix guide and see what's coming to TV this summer.