'The Bachelor' Season 20 Fails At Diversity, But It Didn’t Have To
Reality TV is held to a higher standard of diversity for me, because it's supposed to be about real people, and real people aren't totally monochrome. Whether it's scripted or not, you can't really advertise a show as "reality" and then exclude people of color from the contestant pool. So why, then, is there such a lack of diversity in The Bachelor Season 20? The beautiful women surrounding Bachelor Ben Higgins all seem like smart, fun, wonderful ladies. However, they are also all overwhelmingly white. Of the 28 women featured in Yahoo's promo photo, only four, maybe five, of them appear to be women of color.
Of course, I could be jumping the gun here, and the ethnicities of these women could prove to be something other than wholly white. However, historically, The Bachelor hasn't given me much reason to be confident that they'll prove me wrong on this. The last five seasons of the show alone have had intense problems with diversity. The Bachelor hit a high point in Season 18 when, in addition to Hispanic Bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis, there were seven women of color on the show, mostly of mixed heritage. Season 20 could tie with Season 17, which also featured five women of color, but will be beating Season 19, which only had one, and Seasons 15 and 16 which, brace yourself, featured zero women of color in the entire season.
Some of the women in the official photographs from Season 20 do look to be biracial, but the fact that I've been reduced to squinting at these promotional images and trying to guess if any of these women are people of color, or even at least mixed, really says something about how low my expectations of diversity have become for the Bachelor.
It's particularly disappointing, because the diversity problem is something that could be easily fixed in three simple ways.
1. More Bachelors Of Color
In 2013, the New York Post was emblazoned with a bittersweet headline: "ABC's The Bachelor chooses first minority star." The excitement over finally having a Bachelor of color was undercut by the fact that it happened for the first time twelve years and 17 seasons after the show premiered. And it gets even worse in hindsight since, after Juan Pablo's stint as The Bachelor in Season 18, the show hasn't had another person of color fill the role. Having only one Bachelor of color out of 18 total is pretty egregious, and it's gotten to the point where people have noticed and complained. I'm not denying any of the men who have been featured on the show so far their right to have chances to find love, but when some Bachelors — specifically Brad Womack — have the opportunity to come back and lead a second season before the show sees a black Bachelor or an Asian Bachelor, etc, that's a problem. And it's a problem that could be fixed as early as Season 21.
2. More Guest Hosts Of Color
When Jimmy Kimmel appeared on an episode of The Bachelor Season 19, I was delighted — though not more so than Chris Soules. However, Kimmel's appearance is one of many celebrity guest spots in Bachelor Nation that opens up a whole new world of possibilities for diversity. After all, the number of celebrity fans of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette is literally immeasurable, and getting longer with every season. Having a guest of color hijack an episode for a season, or multiple episodes in a season, would be like putting a band-aid on a wound, but every little bit helps. The Bachelorette had Boys II Men appear, so I know that this is a very plausible option.
3. More Contestants Of Color
According to U.S. Census data, 38 percent of the population is from a minority background, a percentage that's expected to rise to 56 percent by 2060. You would think that by that percentage, out of a crowd of 28 people looking for love on Season 20 of The Bachelor, at least nine or 10 of the people represented would be women of color. When you exclude people of color from their equal representation in the process of finding fairy tale love on reality TV, it makes me as an audience member feel like a woman that looks like me don't deserve a fairy tale love. I shouldn't have to look at every new season's cast and start counting each individual person of color, because there are so few of them that I'm able to actually count them. I shouldn't have to be searching in a crowd of white for the one or two women whose skin tone matches mine.
More than anything, I want Ben H.'s season to be the one that proves to be the most diverse yet, with more than just a handful of women representing a wide variety of cultures. But, from the promotional photos alone, and from the low expectations the lack of diversity in previous seasons has taught me to have, I'm not going to hold my breath until some of these changes are made.
Image: Craig Sjodin (3), Rick Rowell/ABC