“The Bachelor” lead Matt James has broken his silence on the escalating controversy surrounding the show, as longtime host Chris Harrison remains under fire for perpetuating racism during a recent interview.
James, the first Black star of “The Bachelor,” is not just calling out Harrison for his “troubling and painful” words, but is also holding the overall franchise accountable for its handling of diversity and race over the two decades it has been on-air.
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“The past few weeks have been some of the most challenging of my life, and while there are several episodes left of the season, it is important that I take the time to address the troubling information that has come to light since we wrapped filming,” James wrote on his Instagram on Monday, hours before a new episode of “The Bachelor” is set to air on ABC.
The controversy first erupted earlier this year, when former photos of contestant Rachael Kirkconnell — a current frontrunner, who is still in the running on James’ season — emerged on social media, showing her in attendance at an antebellum-themed fraternity formal in 2018. Kirkconnell was also accused on TikTok of racially-insensitive behavior, including liking photos containing the Confederate flag.
Harrison then went on the entertainment news show, “Extra,” to sit down with former “Bachelorette” and correspondent, Rachel Lindsay, who asked Harrison about the controversy surrounding Kirkconnell. During the lengthy discussion with Lindsay, Harrison went to great lengths to seemingly defend Kirkconnell, which resulted in widespread criticism and led to Harrison issuing an apology for “speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism.”
Soon after, Harrison announced he would be stepping aside from the franchise for an undisclosed period of time, including not appearing on “After the Final Rose,” which will serve as the final episode of James’ season.
In his statement on Monday, James took issue with both Harrison and the “incredibly disappointing” photos of Kirkconnell, in addition to the franchise as a whole, which he says has “fallen short” when it comes to dealing with diversity and race.
“The reality is that I’m learning about these situations in real time, and it has been devastating and heartbreaking to put it bluntly,” James wrote.
“Chris’s failure to receive and understand the emotional labor that my friend Rachel Lindsay was taking on by graciously and patiently explaining the racist history of the Antebellum South, a painful history that every American should understand intimately, was troubling and painful to watch,” James continued. “As Black people and allies immediately knew and understood, it was a clear reflection of a much larger issue that ‘The Bachelor’ franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years.”
“This moment has sparked critical conversations and reporting, raised important questions and resulted in inspiring displays of solidarity from The Bachelor nation,” James continued.” “It has also pushed me to reevaluate and process what my experience on ‘The Bachelor’ represents, not just for me, but for all of the contestants of color, especially the Black contestants of this season and seasons past, and for you, the viewers at home.”
James concluded his heartfelt statement by writing, “I will continue to process this experience, and you will hear more from me in the end. My greatest prayer is that this is an inflection point that results in real and institutional change for the better.”
Previously, James had spoken about Kirkconnell’s social media photos, but his initial comments were made before Harrison’s controversial interview and before more information surrounding Kirkconnell came to light — at the time, the contestant had not spoken about the authenticity of the photos.
“I have not spoken to anybody since the show ended, but I would say that you have to be really careful about what you are doing on social media,” James said in early Feb., during in interview with Entertainment Tonight, when asked about the allegations. “Rumors are dark and nasty and can ruin people’s lives. So I would give people the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully she will have her time to speak on that.”
As James wrote on his social media on Monday, he has been discovering new information, along with the viewers at home, in the time since filming on his season wrapped.
Shortly following Harrison’s “Extra” interview with Lindsay, Kirkconnell came forward with her own apology statement. “While there have been rumors circulating, there have also been truths that have come to light that I need to address. I hear you, and I’m here to say I was wrong,” Kirkconnell wrote, in part. “At one point, I didn’t recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn’t excuse them…I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist.”
As the controversy has continued to escalate, many contestants from “The Bachelor” have banded together to speak out against the franchise’s race issues, including 25 women from James’ season, which had the most diverse cast, to date.
“We are the women of ‘Bachelor’ Season 25,” the women posted, earlier this month. “Twenty-five women who identify as BIPOC were cast on this historic season that was meant to represent change. We are deeply disappointed and want to make it clear that we denounce any defense of racism. Any defense of racist behavior denies the lived and continued experiences of BIPOC individuals. These experiences are not to be exploited or tokenized.”
ABC has not released any statement regarding the controversy, at this point. Variety has reached out to the network for comment in regards to James’ post.
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