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Matt James will be the first Black 'Bachelor' in ABC series history; Rachel Lindsay reacts

Kelly Lawler
USA TODAY

Matt James is making history on ABC's "The Bachelor."

The 28-year-old will become the first Black man to take the lead role in the long-running reality dating show, the network announced Friday. Over 40 seasons of "Bachelor," and its sister series "The Bachelorette," only one Black person has held the title role – Rachel Lindsay, who led "Bachelorette" in the 2017 season. 

James was originally intended as a suitor for the upcoming season of "The Bachelorette," in which Clare Crawley will lead. But "Bachelorette" suspended production due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

"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," ABC President Karey Burke said in a news release. "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."

Meet Matt James, the new "Bachelor."

More:'Bachelor,' 'Bachelorette' star Rachel Lindsay says hit ABC shows need to work harder to be more diverse

James is a good friend of Bachelor Nation (as fans of the series are known) favorite Tyler Cameron, the runner up from Hannah Brown's "Bachelorette" season. He was part of Quarantine Crew on TikTok, which featured videos of Brown, Cameron and James. 

"Congrats to my brother @mattjames919 on being named the Bachelor," Cameron wrote on Instagram. "This is all a testament of who you are as a person. Now the world gets to see the person you are and the heart you have. You can change the world. Proud of you and so excited for you."

Alums and fans of the "Bachelor" franchise have been long calling on the series to more consistently and equally cast contestants of color, calls which have gotten louder as protests across the country and around the world have shown support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

The Bachelor Diversity Campaign, launched by 10 "Bachelor" viewers who connected through a fan Facebook page, implores the ABC franchise to diversify its lineup and "consistently cast BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color)." 

More:'Bachelor' alums, fans call on ABC to diversify contestants in wake of Black Lives Matter protests

"Representation matters, and it is one of the most important ways our country can embrace its diversity and evolve," read a statement from the group. "We will use our power as viewers and fans to hold ABC and Warner Bros. accountable and demand they use their platform in a more thoughtful, race-conscious, and socially responsible way. It’s time that ABC, (producer) Mike Fleiss, and Warner Bros. take demonstrable action to address the inequalities in casting, screen time, and employment of minority groups."

The Campaign has launched a Change.org petition calling for a Black Bachelor and other changes to the series, including increasing casting people of color as contestants and behind the camera. A number of former stars have showed support for the petition, including Lindsay, JoJo Fletcher, Ben Higgins, Arie Luyendyk Jr., Desiree Siegfried, Tyler Cameron, Bibiana Julian, Dustin Kendrick, Olivia Caridi, Onyeka Ehie, Devin Harris, Alayah Benavidez, Mykenna Dorn, Amanda Stanton and Ashley Spivey. 

Lindsay was interviewed about the franchise's rocky history with contestants of color, Black contestants in particular, on "Good Morning America" Friday. 

“I was hoping, when I came on, to be a trailblazer (and to) increase diversity in the audience that watches it and also who comes on the show and who could potentially be the lead,” she said. “I felt like the franchise had my back in that. But in the last three years, there really haven’t been changes made.”

She went on to say that the series has to look at diversity beyond who is looking for love in the title role. 

“I want producers of color,” Lindsay said. “I would like for them to cast leads that are interested in dating outside of their race, aren’t just getting their experience for the first time on national TV. I need the acknowledgement of that, not putting a Band-Aid over the situation and just saying, ‘Here, we’re gonna put this here, are you happy now?’”

"The Bachelor" is slated to premiere in 2021, although no specific date has been set. 

More:'Bachelorette' Hannah Brown apologizes after using the N-word; 'Bachelor' Nation reacts

Following James' "Bachelor" announcement, host Chris Harrison said the franchise "can and will do better to portray diverse love stories that reflect the world around us. He called James' historic casting "just the beginning."

"We acknowledge our responsibility for the lack of representation of people of color on our franchise and pledge to make significant changes to address this issue moving forward," Harrison tweeted. "We are taking positive steps to expand diversity in our cast, in our staff and, most importantly, in the relationships that we show on television."

Brown, the Season 15 "Bachelorette" who recently faced backlash for using the N-word, said she "cannot contain my excitement for this amazing human making history as the first Black Bachelor."

"This man is as good as it gets y’all, and that’s coming from a previous skeptic," she captioned a picture of the duo. "I am so blessed to now call you friend. You’ve supported and encouraged me in some of the hardest moments lately and I’m so freaking pumped to support and encourage you as you get ready to go on an adventure of a lifetime! #1 Matt James fan right here!"

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Contributing: Cydney Henderson, Hannah Yasharoff, Maghen Moore