Suit brings attention to ‘The Bachelor’ and race

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  • Robert Galinsky is skeptical about claims by producers of ABC’s “The Bachelor” that they’ve had a hard time finding black singles willing to be on the show.

    Back when he was an acting teacher, Galinsky’s students were predominantly white. But now that he tries to help people break into show business as operator of the New York Reality TV School, about half of his students are racial minorities.

    The nearly all-white racial makeup of “The Bachelor” (and its spinoff, “The Bachelorette”) has simmered as an issue for years. Now it’s the focus of a lawsuit filed last week by two black men from Nashville, Tenn., who say they were given little consideration when they tried to get on the show.

    Through 16 seasons, all of the men given star billing to search for a mate were white. Same with the women in the seven seasons of “The Bachelorette.” Two Hispanic contestants have been selected winners; the rest were all white.

    The pattern extends to the pool of would-be mates, even when producers were aware critics were talking about the issue. None of the women vying for the bachelor’s hand during the past four seasons were black, and one was in Season 12. That’s one black woman out of 130, according to a review of the casts posted online.

    “These shows have been very intentional in the gender and race stereotypes that they’ve created,” said Jennifer Pozner, author of “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV.

    “It would be very, very difficult for people of color to miss the message that not only is this show not meant for you, but we as producers of ‘The Bachelor’ do not want you to see yourself in a romantic starring role. You don’t get to play prince and princess. You don’t get to fantasize about love,” said Pozner, a media critic who has questioned the show’s racial makeup since its first season.

    One of the Nashville men who sued, 26-year-old teacher Christopher Johnson, said he was stopped immediately when he went to a casting call for “The Bachelor” and asked what he was doing there. He said he was told to hand in materials, and never got a call-back or tryout.

    Warner Horizon Television, which produces the series, called the complaint “baseless and without merit.” The company said producers “have been consistently – and publicly – vocal about seeking diverse candidates for both programs.”

    The lawsuit quotes Michael Fleiss, creator of the series, telling “Entertainment Weekly” that “we always want to cast for ethnic diversity. It’s just that for whatever reason, they don’t come forward. I wish they would.”

    Galinsky said he believed there’s little concern about diversity within the network unless it helps make money.

    “Once you have a good thing going in this industry, you don’t want to mess up the formula,” he said.

    The lawsuit points out that dating shows with diverse casts like “Flavor of Love” and “I Love New York” demonstrate proven interest among blacks in these shows. Other popular reality series, including “Survivor,” ”Dancing With the Stars” and “American Idol,” seem to have no trouble achieving a diverse cast.

    On the face of it, ABC would not seem to have a fear of interracial relationships. One of its dramas, “Scandal,” features a white president who has an affair with a black woman.

    There would also seem to be few societal barriers. A Pew Research Center study released in February found about 83 percent of Americans say it is “all right for blacks and whites to date each other,” and about 63 percent said they’d be fine with it if a family member married outside their race.

    But resistance grew with age, according to the survey. Only 55 percent of whites aged 50 to 64 expressed acceptance of a mixed-race marriage in the family. Acceptance dropped to 38 percent among whites aged 65 and over.

    The median age of a typical viewer of “The Bachelor” is just over 50, the Nielsen company said.

    Perhaps reflecting what they see on the screen, the show’s audience is overwhelmingly white: 88 percent of “The Bachelor” viewers this season were white, with 11 percent black or Hispanic. Viewership for the typical prime-time network show is 74 percent white, Nielsen said.

    Those numbers have been consistent: The audience for the debut season of “The Bachelor” in 2002 was 90 percent white.

    Eric Deggans, a media critic for the Tampa Bay Times who has also written about the issue, noted that casting a minority bachelor would raise questions for the show: Would that white audience feel excluded if mostly minority women are brought on to try and strike up a relationship? Would people object to seeing a bachelor date many women outside his race?

    “It’s been my experience that TV executives are pretty cynical about how TV audiences react to race,” Deggans wrote. “And the last thing ABC wants is a cycle of ‘The Bachelor,’ topped by a minority male, where audiences watch less and less, providing an embarrassing display and hobbling a key franchise.”

    Posner said that she believed many of the show’s advertisers, both traditional and through product placement, prefer to see a primarily white audience and will pay more to get access to it.

    More awareness of the issue can’t hurt, she said.

    “I hope that the lawsuit will get people to start to question why the longest-running dating franchise on network television dating show is being produced as if we’re in the 1950s segregated South,” she said.

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