“Bachelor” Nation producers address franchise racism, admit they 'did not protect' Matt James

"We didn't have a Black lead in this franchise for 15 years, and that's inexcusable," Bennett Graebner said in a new interview.

The producing team behind ABC's The Bachelor and The Bachelorette is acknowledging the franchise's history of racial controversies and promising to better embrace diversity and inclusion in future seasons.

In a new interview with the Los Angeles Times, executive producers Claire Freeland and Bennett Graebner admitted to past missteps in how the Bachelor Nation shows have handled issues of race, including the tumultuous season of The Bachelor that featured the show's first Black lead, Matt James.

"I'm going to be really frank — we let Matt down," Graebner said. "That season went wrong on so many levels. We did not protect him as we should have. The finale of that season was the darkest day I've had on this franchise. Here was this great Black man, and we should have been celebrating his love story. Instead, what we saw was a man burdened and overwhelmed by issues of racism. It was really sad for me personally."

<p>Craig Sjodin/ABC</p> Matt James on 'The Bachelor '

Craig Sjodin/ABC

Matt James on 'The Bachelor '

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James' season became embroiled in controversy when contestant Rachael Kirkconnell's past "offensive and racist" actions were revealed, including photos of her at a plantation-themed fraternity formal in 2018. Then Bachelor host Chris Harrison defended Kirkconnell in an interview with Rachel Lindsay, the first Black lead in the entire franchise, against what he called the "woke police" on social media. James spoke out against the "devastating and heartbreaking" situation, and Harrison ultimately stepped down from hosting after 20 years as a result of the backlash. James went on to propose to Kirkconnell, and they are still together today.

Representatives for James didn't immediately respond to Entertainment Weekly's request for comment.

Lindsay broke barriers as the first Black lead when she starred on season 13 of The Bachelorette in 2017 — meaning it took a decade and a half for the franchise to feature a person of color at its center.

"It's hard to say out loud, that people of color didn't see themselves represented, that they did not see The Bachelor franchise as a safe place," Graebner told the LAT. "We didn't have a Black lead in this franchise for 15 years, and that's inexcusable. It created a vicious cycle, and it's taken a lot of work to get back to a place where we feel at least we're working for the positive."

The producers promised that it's a "priority" to cast another Black Bachelor in the near future, though they did not specify when. Graebner also said that production now has access to more resources, including diversity and inclusion consultant Kira Banks and two licensed therapists, one of whom is a person of color.

"We have to do better," Freeland added. "We're not always going to get it right. We're going to make mistakes as we move forward. But we're not going to shy away from difficult conversations."

<p>John Fleenor/ABC</p> Jenn Tran will be the star of 'The Bachelorette' season 21

John Fleenor/ABC

Jenn Tran will be the star of 'The Bachelorette' season 21

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The next season of The Bachelorette (premiering July 8) features the franchise's first Asian lead, Jenn Tran, who is Vietnamese. But there's still a distinct lack of Asian representation from the men in the cast vying for a rose from her.

"That's on us. We didn't do what we needed to do," Graebner admitted. "Our hope is that they will see Jenn and realize this is a safe space. We're not saying it will solve and fix everything. But it is a step."

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The producers know there might be some fans who are unhappy the show is going to be more inclusive moving forward, but that's not their concern.

"We know we're not there," Graebner said. "We have a long way to go. But we're committed to getting there. If you don't want to see a Black love story, an Asian American love story, an interracial love story, then maybe Bachelor Nation isn't for you."

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.