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New lead of ‘The Bachelorette’ breaks barriers

For the first time in the 33 seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” franchise history, a black lead was cast. Courtesy of TNS

After 33 combined seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” ABC has named a black woman as its next lead for the first time in the shows’ histories.  

Rachel Lindsay, a 31-year-old attorney from Dallas and a current contestant on “The Bachelor,” will star in season 13 of “The Bachelorette.”   

The two shows’ lack of diversity has been criticized for years. African-Americans and women of Asian and Iranian descent have appeared as contestants, but neither show has featured a black lead. One American-born Venezuelan, Juan Pablo Galavis, starred as the Bachelor in season 18 of the show.   

Lanier Holt, assistant professor of communication, researches media effects on women, race and other marginalized groups. He said during a lecture, he told his class that ABC naming a black woman as the lead means “the thirst is real.” 

“A black woman is going to be courted,” Holt said. “She’s going to be sought after by suitors of different races. We rarely see that.” 

In franchise history, a black contestant has never lasted longer than five weeks. Fifty-nine percent of the black contestants didn’t last past the first two weeks of the season, according to Fusion.   

“Throughout history, black women have been seen as sex objects,” Holt said. “They’re not seen as feminine. They’re there to be lusted and used for physical purposes.” 

Felecia Ross, associate professor at the School of Communication, specializes in issues concerning the relationship between mass media and discriminated groups. She said Lindsay’s “The Bachelorette” announcement tells the public that black women can be desirable in a respectful way.  

“It sends a message not only to young girls, but to young boys as well,” Ross said. “Desirability, attractiveness, whatever — it can look like this too.” 

Lindsay announced that she would be the next Bachelorette on the Feb. 13 episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” The announcement came earlier in the season than years prior, making it a spoiler for the current season of the “The Bachelor,” as she is still in the running.  

Ross said Lindsay is breaking a barrier in the media.  

“When I look at covers of magazines, such as ‘Brides,’ I rarely see women of color on the covers,” Ross said. “I mean, black women get married, they have weddings.”   

Before becoming a contestant on “The Bachelor,” Lindsay received a law degree from Marquette University and is a personal injury lawyer at a Dallas firm.  

“Even though I’m an African-American woman, it’s not different from any other Bachelorette,” Lindsay told Jimmy Kimmel. 

However, Holt said Lindsay’s impressive resume is no surprise.  

“When you’re black you have to be twice as good,” Holt said. “She has to be pretty and something else in order to make it.” 

“The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” continue to be a top-rated series on ABC. Last season’s “The Bachelorette” finale was Monday night’s highest-rated and most-watched show with 8.43 million viewers. 

“Lindsay’s season will definitely have a high level of interest,” Holt said. “However, there’s a study … that shows if the main character of a TV show is African-American, the public assumes the show is only for black people. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.” 

Lindsay’s season of “The Bachelorette” premieres May 22 on ABC.

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