Rachel Lindsay, star of the next “Bachelorette” and the first African American lead in franchise history. (Mitch Haaseth/ABC)
After 33 editions of the “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” on ABC — and intense criticism about its lack of diversity — producers have cast the first black star of the popular franchise.
On Monday, the network announced that Rachel Lindsay, a 31-year-old attorney from Dallas, will be the next bachelorette when the reality dating series starts a new season in May. Rachel appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to confirm the news, mere hours after she was shown in the latest episode of “The Bachelor,” where she secured herself a spot in “hometown dates” episode next week with the three other remaining contestants.
As Kimmel pointed out, Rachel’s announcement is quite a spoiler for the current season, which stars 36-year-old Nick Viall as the bachelor and wrapped filming several months ago. “I think it’s safe to say your hometown date with Nick did not go as planned,” Kimmel deadpanned.
Nick Viall and Rachel Lindsay in the season premiere. (Rick Rowell/ABC)
Rachel was mum on the details; though apparently her season of “The Bachelorette” starts filming in a couple weeks so she couldn’t keep the secret much longer. “I’m ready to find love, find a husband,” she said, adding that she’s looking for “someone who’s ready for what I’m ready for … someone who’s ready to start a family.”
Over the weekend, “Bachelor” creator Mike Fleiss teased the news about Rachel, tweeting that there would soon be a “historic announcement.” By Monday, many fans guessed what it would be. While casting a black star of a prime-time network TV show shouldn’t be considered “historic” in 2017, the franchise has been in an unflattering spotlight for many years for its glaring lack of diversity.
— Mike Fleiss (@fleissmeister) February 12, 2017
In 2012, two African American men sued ABC and the producers, alleging racial discrimination and claiming that the show’s creators “knowingly, intentionally, and as a matter of corporate policy refused to cast people of color in the role of “The Bachelor” and ‘The Bachelorette.'” The lawsuit was dismissed, but the show continued to cast white leads. There were also very few minorities among the dozens of contestants each season — and they were far more likely to be sent home in earlier episodes.
“I would very much like to see some changes there,” ABC entertainment president Channing Dungey told TV critics last summer. Before the last season of “The Bachelorette,” Fleiss said he was going to “do everything possible to pick the right person and add a little diversity to our cast.” Though there were rumors that Caila Quinn, who is half-Filipino, would be the star, the producers instead chose JoJo Fletcher; this sparked more criticism, although Fletcher is of Persian descent.
Rachel has been a fan favorite since the season premiere, where she and Nick bonded over geography (he’s from Wisconsin; she lived there when she went to Marquette for law school) and the fact that they both come from large families. Nick gave her the coveted “first impression” rose, ensuring she would stick around: “Rachel has really good presence. She’s obviously very smart, she’s beautiful, and she just … stands out to me,” he said. A few weeks later, they went on a one-on-one date in New Orleans, where Nick confessed that he thought he had the most chemistry with her out of anyone.
Rachel Lindsay and Nick Viall dance during their New Orleans date. (Mark Coffey/ABC)
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On Monday’s episode, the topic of race came up, a subject not frequently discussed on the show. While Nick was talking with Rachel about potentially meeting her family during a hometown date, he tentatively asked, “Will I be similar to guys you dated before? Will I be different?”
Rachel read between the lines. “No, I’ve never brought home a white guy,” she said. “I’ve dated white guys, I’ve never brought home a white guy.”
“Is that something you think your parents are gonna, like, bring up?” Nick asked.
“No,” Rachel replied immediately. “If you saw my entire family, like, it’s everybody … it’s not all black. I just want you to be yourself.”
“If I’m bringing you home, it means something,” she added. “And, yes, they will be skeptical, and they will ask questions. But they know that I’m smart, too. I’m not gonna come here for games.”
Clearly, something goes awry in the upcoming episodes. In a news release announcing Rachel’s new role in “The Bachelorette,” ABC spilled that “in the end, she finally [finds] the courage to confess her deepest feelings to Nick, only to be left broken-hearted.”
Early Tuesday morning, Rachel told People magazine that she doesn’t expect this upcoming “Bachelorette” season to be any different. “I’m obviously nervous and excited to take on this opportunity but I don’t feel added pressure being the first black Bachelorette, because to me I’m just a black woman trying to find love,” she said. “Yes, I’m doing on this huge stage, but again my journey of love isn’t any different just because my skin color is.”