The Bachelor franchise has never been short on drama, but real-life racial controversy has surrounded Matt James' run in Bachelor Nation ever since social media images surfaced showing that contestant Rachael Kirkconnell attended an Antebellum party while in school in 2018. Longtime Bachelor Nation host Chris Harrison added fuel to the fire when he gave an interview defending Kirkconnell and speaking out against cancel culture. Both Harrison and Kirkconnell released apologies, but James himself had held his silence as new episodes of The Bachelor continued to air. Now, that has changed, and James addressed the situation.
In a statement that Matt James posted on Instagram, he revealed that he's learning about the controversy "in real time" and that the troubling information about Rachael Kirkconnell that led to Chris Harrison's controversial remarks didn't come to light before the end of filming on his season of The Bachelor. James said:
The past few weeks have been some of the most challenging of my life, and while there are several episodes left of the season, it is important that I take the time to address the troubling information that has come to light since we wrapped filming, including the incredibly disappointing photos of Rachael Kirkconnell and the interview between Rachel Lindsay and Chris Harrison. The reality is that I'm learning about these situations in real time, and it has been devastating and heartbreaking to put it bluntly. Chris's failure to receive and understand the emotional labor that my friend Rachel Lindsay was taking on by graciously and patiently explaining the racist history of the Antebellum South, a painful history that every American should understand intimately, was troubling and painful to watch. As Black people and allies immediately knew and understood, it was a clear reflection of a much larger issue that The Bachelor franchise has fallen short on addressing adequately for years.
Considering spoilers indicate that Rachael Kirkconnell ends the season receiving the final rose from Matt James, it's no wonder that he has had to take some time to process everything that has happened. The situation has also only gotten more complicated since the images of Kirkconnell at the Antebellum started circulating on the web, starting with Chris Harrison's interview with Rachel Lindsay (who of course made Bachelor Nation history as the first Black lead of one of the series) and then leading to the apologies from Harrison and Kirkconnell and Harrison stepping away from the franchise.
Rachel Lindsay (who stands as one of the relatively few Bachelor Nation leads to actually get the happily-ever-after) has since announced that she's done with Bachelor Nation after her current contract with the franchise is up. Considering that she was one of the names floated among fans as a potential replacement for Chris Harrison in the short term or in the event that he leaves the franchise for good in the wake of this controversy, Lindsay's decision is no small deal.
As for Matt James, he didn't say what his plans in the long term are, as his season of The Bachelor isn't even done airing. Depending on if he did choose Rachael Kirkconnell in the finale, he might have some immediate issues to deal with on the relationship front. That said, James did elaborate on his perspective on Bachelor Nation in the wake of these controversies and his hopes for what discussion on race means for the future of the franchise:
This moment has sparked critical conversations and reporting, raised important questions, and resulted in inspiring displays of solidarity from The Bachelor nation. It has also pushed me to reevaluate and process what my experience on The Bachelor represents, not just for me, but for all of the contestants of color, especially the Black contestants of this season and seasons past, and for you, the viewers at home. I will continue to process this experience, and you will hear more from me in the end. My greatest prayer is that this is an inflection point that results in real and institutional change for the better.
Race has been a topic of conversation on camera during Matt James' season of The Bachelor, which comes after viewer calls for Bachelor Nation to cast more leads of color when Rachel Lindsay previously stood as the only Black star of one of the seasons of one of the shows. James is also unique for starring in The Bachelor without first appearing on The Bachelorette, although his close friend Tyler Cameron was a contestant.
It should be interesting to see what more Matt James has to say about the situation as he continues to process his Bachelor experience, particularly when his season comes to an end and he doesn't have to protect the secrets of how the romances go down. For now, you can find his season of The Bachelor airing on ABC Mondays 8 p.m. ET.