"We know this is a few grains of sand in a very big hourglass," said producer Rob Mills about the step forward for diversity on the reality series

By Benjamin VanHoose
June 12, 2020 11:11 AM

The idea to cast Matt James as the next Bachelor — the first-ever black male lead for the franchise — has been floated around for months, according to producers.

On Friday, ABC announced that James, 28, would look for love on the next season of The Bachelor. In a statement to Good Morning America, the network said they are "privileged to have Matt" in the trailblazing role. And while it may have come as a surprise to fans, the decision has been on the table since the winter.

James had auditioned at the time for a spot among Clare Crawley's Bachelorette contestants, for which he was ultimately selected. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, however, production was halted, freeing up the contestant to become the headliner.

"He would have been on Clare’s season if it started in March. When we realized the shutdown was going to extend through the summer, we started thinking about how we were going to choose our Bachelor," Rob Mills, one of the show's producers, told Variety.

"Matt was somebody who was on our radar and we were thinking about him," Mills continued. "We were thinking do we announce him early, or do we put him on Clare’s season and then announce him later, if it doesn’t work out with Clare?"

Added Mills: "We didn’t make a final decision until recently, but this has been talked about for quite some time."

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Mills told Variety that the decision to go with James for the next run of the romantic reality show was not in response to alum Rachel Lindsay's recent criticism about the series' lack of diversity.

Earlier this week, Lindsay, 35 — who became the first black Bachelorette in 2017 — slammed the franchise for not having the diversity "that our audience deserves." A petition also circulated this week, with more than 85,000 signatures calling for a black Bachelor.

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"It wasn’t a response to that. We could have made this announcement earlier or later," Mills said. “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."

"We don’t want this, in any way, to seem like a cure-all and seem like, 'Hey! Look what we did here!'" Mills explained. "We know this is a few grains of sand in a very big hourglass."

Rachel Lindsay
Rachel Lindsay
| Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

Mills recognized that there are "additional pressures" for James in being the first black lead, but added that the star is "ready."

"There is that mantle that you are the first, and it’s been a long time coming, so there are additional pressures. Matt knows that he’s going to be asked about this and he’s ready," said Mills. "But what you never want is for somebody to feel like they are the Bachelor because they are checking off a box."

"The same way with Mike [Johnson], there were so other things that would have made him a great Bachelor, and it was the same thing with Rachel. Yes, she was the first black Bachelorette, and there has been a lot of weight that’s been put on her shoulders, but she was the Bachelorette because, first and foremost, she was a great Bachelorette."