Lawyers who last week sued popular reality shows “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” on behalf of two Nashville men claiming discrimination against people of color said several others have now contacted them saying they were intentionally excluded by the shows.
“Our two clients are certainly not the only ones who have been intentionally excluded,” lawyer Byron Perkins told BlackAmericaweb.com. “We have received several emails from other potential class members, but we must vet those inquiries,” he said.
Perkins, a Birmingham, Alabama –based civil rights lawyer, Cyrus Mehri of Washington, D.C. and George Barrett of Nashville, filed the class action lawsuit in the Federal Court in Nashville on behalf of Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson. Both men are black, college-educated professionals who live in Nashville and tried unsuccessfully to gain spots on the show.
The lawsuit names American Broadcasting Companies Inc., Warner Horizon Television Inc. Next Entertainment Inc, NZK Productions Inc and Michael Fleiss as defendants.
The next step is for the defendants to formally respond to the complaint and for all parties to participate in a scheduling conference also ready set for June 18, Perkins said.
ABC has not responded publicly to the lawsuit. When the issue was raised last year, producer Michael Fleiss told Entertainment Weekly, “We always want to cast for ethnic diversity; it’s just that for whatever reason, they don’t come forward. I wish they would.”
Both Claybrooks and Johnson said they stepped forward, each on separate occasions.
Johnson, a former standout wide receiver on the Tennessee State University football team, is preparing now to try out for professional sports teams while pursuing other business and employment interests.
According to the lawsuit, Johnson had professional photographs taken of himself and completed an application for “The Bachelor” before going to a hotel in Nashville suburb of Brentwood for a casting call for the show in 2011.
A white person employed by the company stopped him as he entered and he explained he was there to apply for a spot on The Bachelor. The person told Johnson he would take his information and pass it alone. At the same time, Johnson noticed that whites were allowed to proceed.
Claybrooks, a former standout football player at Middle Tennessee State University and a businessman, had a similar experience when he went to apply at a Nashville hotel. He completed the application at the hotel and was granted a short interview. He noticed that all of the other applicants present were white and had interviews that lasted about 45 minutes.
Claybrooks said he was told he would be contacted regarding the application, but he has not heard from anyone with “The Bachelor.”
The exclusion of people of color from “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” has become so extreme that an Oregon resident, Lamar Hurd, has recently embarked on a national campaign to become “the first Black Bachelor.” Several online publications wrote about his efforts last week, including BlackAmericaWeb, The Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, BET.com, and Essence.com.
The Bachelor has had 16 seasons and has notched as many as 25 million viewers on just one episode, according to the lawsuit.
“Television shapes the images and perceptions of people,” Perkins said. “You see very few television shows with African-Americans or other people of color involved in loving, affectionate relationships.”
This trend must change, Perkins said.
In challenging popular reality shows and their producers, the attorneys use a portion of federal law that dates back to 1866.
“Following the Civil War and pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1866, federal law has guaranteed every person within the United States ‘the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens . . .,’” Perkins said. “This was intended to give blacks, many of them newly freed from slavery equal contracting rights as whites.
Today that still means that blacks and people of color have a right to equal opportunity in business and commerce. They cannot be denied the opportunity to participate in these shows because of the color of their skin.”