ABC's The Bachelor franchise is owning up to "diversity issues" while announcing the first black male lead in its history, which spans 18 years and 40 seasons. Matt James is a new figure to many franchise fans, though he's a close friend of Tyler Cameron, the runner-up on season 15 of The Bachelorette, per USA Today. James, 28, was originally to appear as as suitor himself on the upcoming season of the The Bachelorette before production was suspended due to the pandemic. That meant "we were given the benefit of time to get to know Matt and all agreed he would make a perfect Bachelor," ABC President Karey Burke said Friday. She added show-makers "have a responsibility" to showcase love stories that "are representative of the world we live in" and "we will continue to take action with regard to diversity issues."
Viewers have long drawn attention to a lack of diversity among contestants. In a Monday blog post, Rachel Lindsay, cast as the first black bachelorette in 2017, wrote that she would "dissociate" from the franchise "if changes are not made." She added "these changes have to extend beyond casting a lead of color," per the Huffington Post. A petition calling for a black bachelor, created this week, had amassed more than 85,000 signatures by Friday morning. In a Friday tweet, the Bachelor Diversity Campaign said it was "encouraged knowing #BachelorNation voices were heard" but "we must keep pushing for change." James tells Good Morning America that this is a "step in the right direction." He says he hopes viewers will see "that I'm not much different from them" and "that diverse love stories are beautiful." (Read more The Bachelor stories.)