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"?

By 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.

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