The network’s decision, which comes three years after Rachel Lindsay became the first black Bachelorette, was announced on Good Morning America on Friday.
In a statement, ABC said it was “privileged to have Matt" as the new Bachelor and said his appointment was “just the beginning” in its efforts to “take action with regard to diversity issues on this franchise.”
"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," the statement read. "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.”
The history-making announcement that James, 28, would be the show’s first black star comes as fans of the show have demanded more diversity.
One petition calling for more leads of colour, titled: “A Campaign For Anti-Racism in the Bachelor Franchise,” has been signed more than 85,000 times as of Friday.
In the description of the petition, fans of the show called it “unacceptable” that there has only been one black lead cast in the 18 years Bachelor content has been produced.
“As creators of one of the most popular and influential franchises on television, ABC and Warner Bros have an opportunity and responsibility to feature Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) relationships, families, and storylines,” the petition reads. “The franchise, and all those who represent it, should reflect and honour the racial diversity of our country - both in front of and behind the camera.”
While appearing on GMA following the announcement, James said his casting was a "step in the right direction".
"I don't think it's ever the wrong time to do the right thing. Too little too late for me is this happening, and we can't have change until we put that first foot forward," he said. "And that first foot forward for the Bachelor franchise is having a black lead, and I'm excited to take that role."
On social media, news of James’ casting has been met with support, however, many fans said that they hope ABC’s casting was just the beginning of its plans to add more diversity to the show.
“It’s been 18 years, 40 seasons, we’ve been asking for this for a long time and you chose now to do it? It honestly seems like you’re using what’s happening in the US and world right now in order to get a pat on the back,” one person wrote. “It seems hollow. I hope you follow through with more.”
Another said: “It’s a step in the right direction even if it’s late.”
Season 25 of The Bachelor is set to air in 2021.
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