Matt James has accepted his rose to become the first Black lead of The Bachelor. On Friday, ABC announced on Good Morning America that James, a 28-year-old real estate broker and community organizer, will lead Season 25. James was already well known to Bachelor Nation fans as the best friend and business partner of Tyler Cameron from Hannah Brown's season of The Bachelorette, and he was originally expected to appear as a contestant on Clare Crawley's upcoming season of The Bachelorette. James' casting makes him the first Bachelor since 2008's Matt Grant to be cast as the lead without having appeared as a contestant on The Bachelorette.
James told Good Morning America that his "first reaction was, 'Does this mean I don't get to meet Clare?' because I was looking forward to meeting her." Production on Crawley's season of The Bachelorette was delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's an honor," James added. "I'm just going to lean into myself and how my mom raised me. And hopefully when people invite me into their homes on Monday night they're going to see that I'm not much different from them and they see that diverse love stories are beautiful."
The announcement follows growing criticism that the long-lived romantic reality series has lacked diversity in casting, with fans mounting social media campaigns and signing a Change.org petition demanding the popular franchise take action to be anti-racist, including calls for a Black lead for Season 25, for 35 percent of contestants to be BIPOC, and for the show to hire more BIPOC employees in production, casting, and filming. Rachel Lindsay Abasolo, the first and only Black lead in Bachelor Nation prior to James' casting, signed the petition, along with several other Bachelor franchise alums, including Nick Viall, Onyeka Ehie, Diggy Moreland, Seinne Fleming, Marquel Martin, Sydney Lotuaco, and Desiree Siegfried.
In a blog post, Lindsay also explained why she planned to disassociate herself with the Bachelor franchise if actions weren't taken. "I am tired of asking for change and my requests have been ineffective. These changes have to extend beyond casting a lead of color. The whole franchise needs a diversity makeover," she wrote.
In a statement, Karey Burke, president of ABC Entertainment, said, "Matt has been on our radar since February, when producers first approached him to join Bachelor Nation, as part of Clare's season. When filming couldn't move forward as planned, we were given the benefit of time to get to know Matt and all agreed he would make a perfect Bachelor. We know we have a responsibility to make sure the love stories we're seeing onscreen are representative of the world we live in, and we are proudly in service to our audience. This is just the beginning, and we will continue to take action with regard to diversity issues on this franchise. We feel so privileged to have Matt as our first Black Bachelor and we cannot wait to embark on this journey with him."