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'The Bachelor' Finale Will Air As The Franchise Faces A Racial Reckoning

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It was long overdue, and ABC's "The Bachelor" hoped it would signal real change on a show that, for 24 seasons, had never seen a Black star. Instead, after casting 29-year-old real estate broker Matt James, "The Bachelor" has faced a series of race-related controversies, including one that ensnared its longtime host, Chris Harrison. ABC announced yesterday that he will not be hosting the next season of the spinoff show "The Bachelorette." "The Bachelor" airs its season finale tomorrow. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans joins us now to talk about the show and its ongoing issues.

Welcome.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just last week, "The Bachelor" faced criticism for showing star Matt James confronting his father over cheating on his mother. Let's listen to that clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BACHELOR")

MANNY JAMES: Do you know what I went through with your mom when you guys were, like, 2 or 3? I came home one day. Your mom was gone, bruh (ph).

MATT JAMES: For good reason. Who wants to be with someone who's not going to be faithful to them?

MANNY JAMES: Nobody's perfect, son. Look around you in this world. Who's perfect? I'm not perfect. You're not perfect yourself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Critics said this fed into stereotypes about Black fathers abandoning their family. Tell me your thoughts on that.

DEGGANS: Yeah, I don't agree with that. I think this story was Matt James's story. And I wouldn't say that somebody shouldn't tell their personal story just because it fits a stereotype. But "The Bachelor" is basically a nighttime soap opera that stars non-actors. I mean, it never does a good job talking about serious issues because it isn't really designed to do that. It's designed to mine those very serious issues for on-camera drama and then move on. But that doesn't really work when the subject is something as important and sensitive as a Black man confronting his absentee dad. So the sequence just looked like a cheap ploy for on-camera drama.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The big recent controversy on the show involves contestant Rachael Kirkconnell. Pictures surfaced on social media of her attending a fraternity formal with a theme centered around the antebellum South, of course, where enslaved Black people worked on Southern plantations. In an interview, host Chris Harrison tried to shrug it off.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS HARRISON: The woke police is out there. And this poor girl, Rachael, who has just been thrown to the lions - I don't know how you are equipped to be woke enough, to be eloquent enough to be ready to handle this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: After that, Harrison apologized and said he's stepping back from the show. What do you make of that?

DEGGANS: I think Chris Harrison, who has always been the host of "The Bachelor," articulated the point of view of the people who make that show. They keep having problems handling issues of race on the show. The producers refuse to acknowledge how unfair the show is to Black contestants and that "The Bachelor" has always been centered on white culture. They put people who disagree together to make drama on the show all the time, but they underestimate how damaging and awful that is to put a Black person next to somebody who's racist or may have had issues with race in their past.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The show's season finale airs Monday. I mean, do you think host Chris Harrison being sort of sidelined solves anything?

DEGGANS: No. Emmanuel Acho, who's the author of this bestselling book and a webcast called "Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man" - he's going to host the live special that follows the season finale, which is called "After The Final Rose." But since the season was filmed last year - this season of "The Bachelor" that we've been watching - Chris Harrison kept appearing as the show's host even after he said he was stepping away.

So you know, there are rumors about who Matt James picked. And if he winds up picking Rachael Kirkconnell, I expect that they're going to spend a lot of time talking about these issues and where the couple is now. But this is triage on an open wound. I mean, they really need systemic change on that show. Otherwise, the next time a Black person stars on the show, the same issues are going to surface again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans.

Thank you very much.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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