‘The Bachelor’ Should Be Ashamed of What It’s Done to Matt James
The first Black Bachelor’s season hit a new low on Monday night, as the show exploited his family strife and played into stereotypes about Black fathers.
Since the very beginning of this year’s Bachelor, we’ve known two things about our hunk du jour, Matt James: After 25 seasons, he is (finally) the franchise’s first Black Bachelor and, as touted extensively in promotional materials ahead of the premiere, he’s never been in love before.
For most of this season, Matt’s so-called “amazing journey” toward discovering what love really means to him has taken a back burner, as bullying consumed the story on-screen and a racism scandal embroiled Bachelor Nation off-screen. But on Monday night, as Matt and his women took to the “Fantasy Suites,” it finally became clear why early promotion for this season focused on Matt’s inability to open up with women in the wake of his parents’ split.
In a gut-wrenching conversation, Matt confronted his father on air about how growing up without a paternal presence had impacted his ability to connect. And rather than tell that story respectfully, The Bachelor exploited both Matt and his father in the worst way possible.
In Fantasy Suites week, with only three women left, Matt had clearly begun contemplating the gravity of the show’s traditional finale proposal—and the emotional strife that’s prevented him from truly sharing with his romantic partners in the past.
“One of the things that's been hard for me in past relationships is going deep and sharing who I am, what I'm about, and what I’ve been through,” the Bachelor said Monday night. “I guard myself... When tough conversations have come up I ran from them.”
Manny James, Matt’s father, clearly did not expect their conversation to get as deep as it did. He appeared jovial when he arrived at the Nemacolin Resort in Pennsylvania, congratulating his son and expressing pride as they sat down. As Matt began to talk about his fear of commitment, Manny reassured his son, telling him, “You’ll be great.” But Manny’s face shifted as Matt persisted, explaining the difficulties of growing up without a father.
It was excruciating to watch Matt sniffling through a confessional interview, telling producers, “I remember growing up, he’d come around every now and then, drop off some shoes, buy us pizza.” He began to cry in that moment before heaving a pained sigh. “I didn't need shoes, man. I didn't need any shoes. I didn't need any pizza. I needed a dad.”
Manny grew defensive as he spoke with his son at first, and revealed that his own father was killed when he was five years old growing up in Africa. Eventually, the two had a breakthrough and began to reconcile, vowing to work on their bond and embracing.
The show tried to frame the meeting as a heartwarming and necessary moment as Matt explores what love means to him. But the questions it left unanswered were frustrating—and left room, intentionally or not, for racist stereotypes and assumptions to fill in the blanks. Beyond the way it was presented, a greater issue lingered: Matt and his father are each entitled to their feelings and experiences, but should we really be allowed to witness them?
As Rachel Lindsay, the franchise’s first Black Bachelorette, pointed out on The Ringer’s Bachelor Party podcast, the only thing we really know about Matt, even after all these weeks, is that he’s a pretty even-keeled guy who grew up without his father. Matt is biracial; his mother, who raised him and his brother in North Carolina, is white, while his father is Black. And thanks to this season’s focus on drama between contestants, we know little about Matt as a person beyond these facts. As a result, the show has flattened Matt’s family into a stereotype instead of illuminating their relationships with empathy.
As Lindsay pointed out, this week’s scene and the way Matt’s story has been framed overall play straight into dated tropes about Black fathers being disproportionately absent from their children’s lives. (That notion, which remains pervasive to this day, has been repeatedly debunked.) Lindsay also reflected on her own experience with the show—including the way producers forced her to deal with racist contestant Lee Garrett on her own during her season. “If the Bachelor franchise has shown us anything,” she said, “it’s that they don't know how to protect people of color; they only know how to exploit them.”
The Bachelor thrives on “conversations” like the ones Matt and his father just shared. Especially recently, the series seems to use intense personal moments as proof of substance—from Caelynn Miller-Keyes discussing her sexual assault during Colton Underwood’s Bachelor season to Bachelorette Hannah Brown’s highly publicized strike back against a slut-shaming contestant.
But as Lindsay notes, it’s surprising that The Bachelor—with its history of letting down its contestants of color—believed itself equipped to tell a story as complex as Matt’s and his father’s.
Longtime fans have known from the beginning that one Black Bachelor could not fix this franchise’s historic race problem. The franchise has long faced criticism for tokenizing its participants of color, failing to properly screen for contestants with racist social media histories, and, in the case of Lindsay’s season, actively using racism as a source of drama within the show.
Choosing a Black Bachelor at least felt like a step forward. But with most of Matt’s “journey” behind us, we’ve learned stunningly little about him or most of his contestants. Instead, we’ve observed a lot of inter-contestant bullying—both monotonous and genuinely appalling—while getting barely any sense of Matt’s connections with the women who kept their focus on him.
And off-air, the show has mired itself in another major racism controversy—in which the season’s frontrunner, Rachael Kirkconnell, apologized for her past racist behavior (including, as seen in images that surfaced online, wearing offensive Halloween costumes, attending an “Old South” themed party, and “liking” a social media post with a Confederate flag in the background). Harrison himself has also temporarily stepped away from the show and apologized after defending her behavior and decrying the “woke police” who dared question it.
This season has brought to the forefront serious discussions of how this franchise tokenizes and exploits its contestants of color, especially those who are Black. A legion of fans and former contestants seem committed to moving The Bachelor toward a more inclusive future, indicating that if nothing else, at least Matt’s season could become a watershed moment that will force the franchise to finally make substantive changes.
But all of this progress would nonetheless come at the expense of the Bachelor himself.
Reflecting on the Bachelor’s conversation with his father on Bachelor Party, Lindsay granted, “Maybe Matt really did need this. But this was a conversation that should have just been for Matt—not the rest of the world to see. And it shows that you don’t care about your contestants, specifically the ones of color. The fact that you were more willing to throw him under the bus and exploit him and stereotypes within the Black community for what you would call ‘good TV.’”
One can always argue that anyone who signs up for a reality show like The Bachelor has, in effect, consented to their own exploitation. But if the backlash we’ve seen from fans this season tells us anything, it’s that a large portion of Bachelor Nation craves a more humane production—one that defines its boundaries based on its contestants’ wellbeing, rather than what producers think they can get away with.
Which brings us to the most alarming aspect of Monday’s episode, and that scene in particular: Matt himself was allegedly on edge about it.
“I know for a fact—please listen to me when I say this—I know for a fact Matt was uncomfortable with this conversation and the fact that it was going to be aired,” Lindsay said.
Matt himself actually addressed the moment as it aired, as well. “Tonight’s convo with my dad was hard to experience, and it’s just as hard to watch all this time later, especially knowing the world is watching with me,” he wrote on Twitter Monday night. “I just wanted to say that too often, we see dangerous stereotypes and negative depictions of Black fathers in media. And they have consequences when presented without context.”
“All I hope is that people watch that conversation with nuance, care, and also an understanding that there are real systemic issues at play,” the Bachelor concluded. “I’m so proud of myself for being vulnerable, and I’m so proud of my mother. I wouldn’t be who I am without my dad. That’s a fact.”