Is ‘The Bachelor’ Racist? ABC Sued for Discrimination

A lawsuit claims that the reality show intentionally excluded Blacks from auditioning for the lead role. Could Lamar Hurd be the first Black “Bachelor”?

the-bachelor-reality-tv-showBy Stacy Straczynski

It’s the question that has landed the “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” and its TV network, ABC, in the middle of a racial-discrimination lawsuit, which is reportedly the first lawsuit filed against a reality show.

The case: After 10 years and a collective 23 seasons, neither “The Bachelor” nor “The Bachelorette” has yet to feature a Black, Latino or Asian person. Out of a collective total of 610 contestants, only 16 were Black; none were selected for the lead, according to an evening newscast by The Insider on April 18.

It’s a misstep that the plaintiffs—Black football players Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson—say is intentional.

ABC, which is owned by The Walt Disney Company, one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies, declined to comment. “ABC does not comment on pending litigation,” a company spokesperson said via email.

Warner Horizon Television gave the following statement: “This complaint is baseless and without merit. In fact, we have had various participants of color throughout the series’ history, and the producers have been consistently—and publicly—vocal about seeking diverse candidates for both programs. As always, we continue to seek out participants of color for both ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘The Bachelorette.’”

The Allegations

Both Claybrooks and Johnson, according to TMZ, say that they were treated differently than white contestants when they auditioned for “The Bachelor” at a casting call in Nashville this past August. Johnson says he was turned away and not allowed to audition at all, while Claybrooks says his audition time was cut notably short in comparison to other white contestants, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Both spoke about their experience in a press conference yesterday afternoon:

The two men filed Case 3:12-cv-00388 on April 18 in Nashville, Tenn., federal court. They are seeking a class-action lawsuit against ABC as well as the show’s Executive Producer Mike Fleiss and its production companies, including Warner Horizon Television, Next Entertainment and NZK Productions.

Claybrooks and Johnson are represented by three firms: Barrett Johnston, Mehri & Skalet and Perkins-Law. They claim it’s a violation of the 1866 Civil Rights Act. Mehri & Skalet, a class-action plaintiff law firm based in Washington, D.C., has a history in dealing with civil-rights cases. “Our firm is highly selective about which cases we bring. One factor is the impact a case can have on society outside of the company. Here,  this popular show reinforces stereotypes and creates a ripple effect of discrimination. With this case, our clients can have a small part on the journey for a more inclusive, more tolerant America,” the lawyers said.

LaNease Adams, a Black woman who was chosen as one of the female contestants during the first season of “The Bachelor” and was one of the final eight women vying for the bachelor’s heart, notes the lack of Blacks and Asians on the show. However, she paints a different view of the producers and says she never felt discriminated against. She describes her experience in an interview with The Insider below:

ABC had another issue last year, when the LGBT and Latino communities were angered over a show that only aired two episodes: ‘I’m Puerto Rican—I’d Be Great at Selling Drugs’ and ‘Not Married? She Must Be a Lesbian’

Read more racial-discrimination lawsuits from legal expert Bob Gregg.

From 1/16 Cherokee to the First Black Bachelor

The allegations of racism on the show aren’t new. The Huffington Post called out ABC for the shows’ all-white casts in January 2010. Additionally, during an interview in March 2010, Entertainment Weekly asked Fleiss, “Will we ever see a bachelor or a bachelorette who is not white?” His reply: “I think Ashley is 1/16th Cherokee Indian, but I cannot confirm. But that is my suspicion! We really tried, but sometimes we feel guilty of tokenism. Oh, we have to wedge African-American chicks in there! We always want to cast for ethnic diversity, it’s just that for whatever reason, they don’t come forward. I wish they would.”

So far there are only a handful of social-media users commenting on the news, the majority of which do not seem shocked by the allegations. On tumblr, one user refers to Fleiss’ explanation as “pathetic,” while tweets trending on #Bachelor include “I guess a spray tan and the occasional Asian does not diversity make …” and “I’d be shocked if they ever have a [B]lack man on The Bachelor … and it would be forced.” As of this morning, 13 comments and 50 “likes” were left in response to an article posted by The Root on its Facebook page, which calls attention to other TV networks that should be sued for a lack of diversity.

Additionally, a social-media campaign that has been lobbying for Lamar Hurd to become the first Black “Bachelor” (@1stblkbachelor) may finally have paid off. CBS Los Angeles reports that the show’s producers are considering the Black sportscaster from Portland as their next pick. (Watch his audition video below.) One news source, Weekly World News, says ABC made the announcement yesterday months ahead of schedule, presumably in response to the lawsuit.

Diversity in Reality TV and Entertainment

Ethnic diversity, however, does not seem to be a challenge for the rest of the reality TV segment, which an LA Times article reports to be typically more diverse than scripted sitcoms and shows. The article references Black and Asian participants on shows such as “The Amazing Race,” “Survivor” and “The Biggest Loser.”

PopWatch notes “Dancing with the Stars” for its diverse casting. The show is also broadcast by ABC. Seven of this season’s 12 dancing pairs have either Black or Latino representation: Super Bowl champion and Green Bay Packers receiver Donald Driver, Disney Channel’s Roshon Fagan, Grammy winner Gladys Knight, Latin soap opera and VH1 actor William Levy, “TV Extra” host Maria Menounos, “The View” co-host Sherri Shepard and “Family Matters” actor Jaleel White.

Last year, GLAAD applauded the show for featuring its first transgender person, Chaz Bono, and gay stylist Carson Kressley.

So what happened with “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette”?

Lesson Learned?

The entertainment media is facing quick backlash on these issues on social media these days. Remember the recent racial controversy surrounding box-office hit “The Hunger Games” and its abundance of Black actors?

It calls attention to changing demographics—and expectations—among the American audience. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the white population is decreasing and projects that whites will make up less than half of the total population by 2050.

DiversityInc research and analysis illustrates companies’ increasing emphasis on clarity of values in their messaging, branding and staffing.

Read these DiversityInc articles for more insight on how crucial diversity is to a business’s connection to the marketplace:

Ask the White Guy: Decision Making, Clarity of Values & What to Do When It Goes Horribly Wrong
Are you violating your values? If you are, you can’t hide from the repercussions.

Did Komen’s Lack of Board Diversity Cause Its Crisis?
The nonprofit organization’s board of directors is mostly Texan, homogeneous and wealthy. Here’s how the lack of diversity fueled its misstep over funding to Planned Parenthood.

Diversity Web Seminar: Resource Groups
Innovative marketplace solutions from resource groups at American Express and Procter & Gamble provide best practices in using cultural competence to increase sales.

Diversity Training Goes Way Beyond Compliance
Our employment expert reveals how REAL diversity training can help keep your company from being sued for discrimination.

Do White Men Really Need Diversity Outreach?
How companies are showing white men what’s in it for them.

Top 5 Ways to Use Your Resource Groups
Here’s how more than 20 companies use their groups to find and develop talent and connect to customers/clients for business results.

Cross-Cultural Mentoring: How IBM, E&Y & Kraft Increase Diversity in Management
These companies’ cutting-edge best practices can help create and manage a successful mentoring program.


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  • David Phillips

    How about the absence of people living with HIV from “reality TV” 20 years after Pedro Zamora on MTV’s “The Real World”? There’s an ingrained bias in television that disproportionately discriminates against people of color! Same-sex couples and people living with other disabilities have become de rigeur on shows like “The Amazing Race,” while producers continue to assert that HIVers threaten the insurability of production without demonstrating how young adults drinking to excess and sexing around poses any less risk.

  • is the gov now going to tell people what color and race they must date? The law states that you cannot rent, hire, fire based on race. The law doesn’t apply to personal decisions on dating. Even the feds can’t force you to date someone by race (unless they are hiding him under a mask of another race).

    • Ginger, in this case, it is a company hiring actors and actresses for roles in a television show. It would fall under the ‘hire’ area that you mentioned is in the law. If the individuals were dating off air or on a personal basis, then it would be a different aspect.

  • I think another Bachelor should be made. One that reflects real America. The minority population is fast becoming the majority in America. Why not have a show that reflects that? Sound like someone in hollywood could pitch that idea and get funding.

  • Ms. LeNease Adams has a good point. It is, also, a business minded approach. If an individual does not like the way a company or project is run, it is a good idea to start a new company or project. I would love to see shows with diverse dating partners. It would more accurately reflect my lifestyle along with that of many friends and colleagues.

  • Black men, can’t we find something more meaningful to fight about? How meaningless this lawsuit is, its laughable! Cute guys who want-a-be. With all the roles Black men are not getting in movies and tv I guess its worth fighting for to them.

  • We must remember that television shows like this are part of the fantasy business. They have no basis in reality whatsoever. Yes, there aren’t enough minorities on this show. The reason for that is because young able bodied Caucasians are the target group the advertisers are trying to reach. I believe this is a narrow minded approach, As a person with a physical disability who tried to break into television,I believe more minorities should be represented in all aspects of the industry.
    Rather than file a lawsuit, the parties involved should stop watching the show and tell their friends to stop watching. As long as the ratings are high, nothing will change. When the ratings drop,that’s when the producers will make a move to change the show.

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