Whatever you may think about The Bachelor franchise, after more than 20 seasons and countless spin offs, we can all agree it’s here to stay. But let’s be real, the year is 2017. It’s a problem that after all these seasons, this is the first time the reality show has featured a black lead, Rachel Lindsay.
While the groundbreaking nature of Rachel’s casting has been rightly celebrated, the diversity of her suitors hasn’t gotten the same attention. This season, fourteen of the thirty one contestants are men of color, the most diverse group in the show’s history. So while this season is groundbreaking for The Bachelor franchise, its portrayal of black men is groundbreaking for primetime, network television in general.
Why? The way black masculinity is generally portrayed in mainstream culture is extremely limiting. We generally only see black, male characters enacting a handful of stereotypes which reinforce a negative, single story about what it means to be a black man – the dangerous, hyper-sexual thug; the funny but inconsequential friend; the victim in need of saving; the absent father. From the single dad to the 28-year-old prosecuting attorney, these contestants are breaking the mold television has set for black men by just being normal. With so many black suitors, the show has to differentiate them and show dimensions of their character we might not otherwise see, whether it’s their vulnerability, their sense of humor, or their excitement at an opportunity for love.
While the men are allowed to show various sides of themselves, the producers still apply limiting archetypes to certain characters. In DeMario, we find the stereotypical aggressive, dishonest black, male “player” who *spolier* was still seeing a woman when he signed up for The Bachelorette. But the caveat is that right next to him is Diggy, “a silly and sweet contestant” (according to his Instagram feed, thanks Bustle) who happens to be a senior inventory analyst who also loves fashion. Then there’s Kenny, the professional wrestler, a devoted dad who is far from the macho, hyper masculine character one imagines when “wrestler” is mentioned. These men are complex and full people who until now, we have rarely found in media.
This season of The Bachelorette with Rachel as the titular character is a reminder that we need more representation in film, media, and yes, even reality television. Not just because it makes shows more entertaining or, in this case, our go-to guilty pleasure, but because media is a critical part of our shared culture and it can be used to break down bias instead of build them up. But to do so, we need characters who are nuanced and have depth and whose story arcs are not solely defined by their race. The real surprise here is seeing this diversity of representation in a reality TV show that for so long erased and stereotyped black men.