The Bachelor franchise is ready for change.
On Friday, the ABC dating show announced its first black Bachelor, Matt James. The news came amid worldwide headlines about the Black Lives Matter movement, days after a petition was created calling for a black lead for The Bachelor's upcoming 25th season, and former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay's threat to leave the franchise if diversity wasn't improved. But according to ABC executive Rob Mills, none of those things had anything to do with why James was chosen to be the next Bachelor.
"It wasn’t a response to that. We could have made this announcement earlier or later," Mills told Variety. "Certainly no one is blind to what is happening in the world, so hopefully this announcement serves as a bit of optimism during a time that we can really use this, but I don’t want this to look like we’re patting ourselves on the back or taking a victory lap."
James' casting isn't a "cure-all" for the franchise's historic lack of diversity, Mills said. "Everyone agrees we can be doing better and we will work to do that," he promised. "I do think there have been some strides made -- small and maybe not enough, but there has been a commitment and that will continue."
"Everyone agrees we should have had a Bachelor of color before this time," Mills confessed, though he also declared that James wasn't cast in the lead role just because he's black. "What you never want is for somebody to feel like they are the Bachelor because they are checking off a box."
The Bachelor has cast two Hispanic men over it's 18-year history: Juan Pablo Galavis and Peter Weber. Weber's season featured the most diverse group of contestants, with about a third of the cast women of color. It was a large improvement from previous seasons of the dating series; its earliest seasons included just a handful of non-white women.
Earlier this week, Lindsay called for the Bachelor franchise to address its "systemic racism." She said she would cut ties with The Bachelor if they didn't overhaul their approach to diversity and representation.
The Bachelor Happy Hour podcast host called for the following changes: "1. Cast leads that are truly interested in dating outside of their race; 2. Stop making excuses for the lack of diversity and take action to rectify the problem; 3. Diversify the producers on the show to make your contestants of color feel more comfortable; and 4. Stop creating problematic story lines for people of color."