The announcement of Matt James as Bachelor marked a historic first for the franchise and a move toward the diversity many in Bachelor Nation have petitioned to see. Now, the man at the center of the upcoming season is revealing what it is like carrying the weight of being the first Black Bachelor.
In a sneak peek obtained by People, one of James’ contestants asks him, “You are the first Black Bachelor and I think that’s so incredible. How do you feel about that?”
“You know, I feel a load of responsibility, but in that, I feel like my experience isn’t everyone’s experience,” responded the real estate associate. “I can only go and speak on things that I’ve experienced and live out my truths. And do the best I can to represent who I am and how I was raised.”
He elaborated during a confessional, saying, “Being a person of color, it’s important to me that someone knows what that’s like and embraces it because that was part of who I am and it’s going to be part of our relationship.”
James, who was originally supposed to appear in Clare Crawley’s season of The Bachelorette, was named amid an outcry for more diversity in the franchise. He will be following in the footsteps of the franchise’s first Black lead, Rachel Lindsay, and the most recent Bachelorette, Tayshia Adams who is also Mexican.
Other contestants shared the importance of his casting. As one woman in the sneak peek put it, “I just couldn’t imagine myself doing this journey and this experience if it were any other person. And it’s important to me to see diverse love stories because it’s not something I saw so much growing up as a child.”
James Has Not Appeared Previously in the Franchise
James was cast as the lead without appearing on any previous iteration of the show. While he was originally cast for Crawley’s season, he was named Bachelor before filming could resume amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Matt has been on our radar since February, when producers first approached him to join Bachelor Nation, as part of Clare’s season,” said ABC President Karey Burke in a statement. “When filming couldn’t move forward as planned, we were given the benefit of time to get to know Matt and all agreed he would make a perfect Bachelor.”
His casting comes amid rising pressure to have a Black lead for season 25 of The Bachelor.
Burke continued, “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.”
Bachelor Nation Petitioned for a Black Bachelor
During the summer of 2020, as there was a growing conversation around the Black Lives Matter movement, a Change.org petition started gaining steam. It called for a Black Bachelor as well as greater diversity in other areas of the show.
Released before Adams’ casting, it read in part, “ABC and Warner Bros. have been producing Bachelor content for 18 years. During that time they’ve cast 40 season leads, yet only one Black lead. This is unacceptable.”
The petition called Bachelor Nation, “one of the most popular and influential franchises on television” and called on it to “reflect and honor the racial diversity of our country–both in front of and behind the camera.”
After James was cast, the network’s president pledge to take action.
“This is just the beginning, and we will continue to take action with regard to diversity issues in the franchise,” said Burke at the time of James’ casting. “We feel so privileged to have Matt as our first Black Bachelor and we cannot wait to embark on this journey with him.”
James’ journey starts on ABC tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.