by Madeline Berg | Forbes
It has taken 15 years, 21 seasons of The Bachelor and 12 seasons of The Bachelorette, but the franchise has finally cast its first Black lead: Dallas attorney Rachel Lindsay. Lindsay, who is currently competing on this season of The Bachelor for Nick Viall’s love, will begin her own search on ABC’s hit franchise this summer.
The move comes after years of criticism directed towards ABC and the franchise, which also includes Bachelor in Paradise, for its lack of diversity. There has only been one non-white lead, the Venezuelan Juan Pablo Galavis who was cast in 2013. Only two people of color–Catherine Ciudici and Tessa Horst, who are both part Asian–have ever won the show. And, according to research by Fusion, 59% of black Bachelor and Bachelorette contestants are sent home within the show’s first two weeks. Two black men who had auditioned for The Bachelor even sued ABC in 2012 claiming discrimination (the suit was dismissed).
“This season Rachel is definitely going to go far, but no one in my pool thought she would win because black women don’t usually even get to the top eight,” Bachelor fan Dane Jones told Forbes, referring to her Bachelor Fantasy League.
In recent years, the complaints against the franchise have grown worse, causing former ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee to address the issue in last year and hint at a black bachelorette.
“We’re doing a whole lot of tweaks,” Lee said at last winter’s Television Critics Association press tour. “But I’d be very surprised if The Bachelorette in the summer isn’t diverse. I think that’s likely.”
Well, he was likely surprised, as last summer’s Bachelorette lead, JoJo Fletcher was white.
The new ABC President, Channing Dungey, once again promised change. “We need to increase the pool of diverse candidates in the beginning. That is something we really want to put some effort and energy towards,” she said at last summer’s TCA tour. It looks like the network is finally delivering on its promise.
But the diversity is likely not entirely grounded in the desire for inclusion and diversity. The Bachelor is a ratings machine for ABC, but is not nearly as popular with black audiences.
While Nielsen doesn’t breakdown audience by race, according to advertising technology company Quantcast, which analyzes search data, it is likely that most of those viewers are white. Those searching for The Bachelor and Bachelorette skew white. Whites are 7% more likely to search about the show than the average searcher, while blacks are 39% less likely to search and Hispanics are 17% less likely to search. This shows ABC and advertisers that there is room to grow in terms of viewers. (ABC did not respond to requests for comment.)
“There is an audience out there that may be interested in reality dating shows, but The Bachelorette isn’t tapping into that,” Lauren Young, a data insights research manager at Quantcast, told Forbes.
Lindsay may be solution. And even if she isn’t a silver bullet for ratings, she will be the answer, socially, as she brings much-needed inclusion and representation to the show.