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Scandal has surrounded "The Bachelor" franchise over the last few weeks.
Photos emerged of Matt James' contestant Rachael Kirkconnell at a plantation-themed party.
James spoke out Monday, calling the recent events "devastating and heartbreaking."
"The Bachelor" is no stranger to scandal, but the last few weeks have been the messiest yet for the long-running series.
What began with TikTok rumors and photos at a plantation-themed fraternity party came to a head last week when host Chris Harrison stepped down after his interview with "Bachelorette" star Rachel Lindsay.
The controversy has overshadowed Matt James' historic season as the first Black "Bachelor" star, with prominent alums of Bachelor Nation banding together to call for major change in a franchise that has long struggled with diversity issues.
Here's how it all went down.
The franchise promised it would make major changes in June, naming Matt James as the first Black "Bachelor" since the show premiered in 2002.
"The Bachelor" faced a reckoning as Black Lives Matter protests swept across the US, reigniting debates on diversity throughout Hollywood and beyond.
More than 160,000 people, including many of the show's biggest stars, signed a Change.org petition demanding that a Black lead be cast in the next season.
Shortly thereafter, executive producers announced that James — a biracial real estate broker, who was initially cast in Clare Crawley's season of "The Bachelorette" — would become the next star of "The Bachelor."
James' casting was announced days after Lindsay, the franchise's first Black "Bachelorette," said she would "dissociate" with Bachelor Nation if it didn't confront its diversity issues.
"In 40 seasons, 'The Bachelor' had one Black lead," Lindsay told AfterBuzz in June. "We are on 45 presidents. And in 45 presidents there's been one Black president. You are almost on par to say you're more likely to become the President of the United States than you are a Black lead in this franchise. That's insane."
James' casting came after "The Bachelorette" tapped its second Black lead, Tayshia Adams, who's biracial, to replace Crawley after she left her season early to get engaged to contestant Dale Moss.
In October, Harrison — who is also an executive producer for the franchise — told Insider that there were changes happening behind the scenes as well.
"There's obviously a lot of things you won't see behind the camera — hiring practices in crew, producers, [and] people being promoted. A lot of steps that won't get as much limelight but are as equally important," he explained.
James' season premiered on January 4, and featured a controversial conversation about race with Harrison.
On the show's premiere episode, James sat down with Harrison before meeting his contestants to discuss the pressure he felt being the first Black "Bachelor" in the show's history.
"You've got people who are cheering for you to end up with a specific person of a specific race," James said. "That's something that kept me up at night. I don't want to piss off Black people, I don't want to piss off white people, but I'm both of those. You know what I mean? It's like, how do I please everybody?"
James was criticized after the interview aired.
It was a discussion that also didn't sit well with Lindsay, she told Insider during an interview on January 29.
"Why is Matt James, a Black man, having to explain to a white man what it means to be Black?" Lindsay said. "It just was not the right way to do it."
Lindsay said she wished he'd been able to express his feelings straight to the camera rather than with Harrison.
"The conversation should've been Matt just talking about some of his fears and reservations he has stepping into this role," Lindsay said. "The setup didn't do Matt any favors, and I feel like that's also why people were so critical of it."
That same month, rumors began circulating about Rachael Kirkconnell, an early front-runner on James' season.
The 24-year-old graphic designer from Georgia, described as a "southern sweetheart" in her official "Bachelor" bio, first made headlines when a TikTok user accused Kirkconnell of bullying her for dating Black men.
Another TikTok user also accused her of liking racist photos.
As rumors swirled, Lindsay called out the franchise for its history of casting problematic contestants.
Reacting to the rumors about Kirkconnell, Lindsay said she didn't understand how "Bachelor" background checks failed to find damaging information about contestants that was easily dug up by people, including Reddit users.
"So many people send me stuff from Reddit all the time," Lindsay told Insider. "I'm getting stuff currently from people on Matt James' season now and I hope it's not what I think it is, but if it is I'm going to be mad because why is Reddit figuring out what the show can't?"
"It's extremely frustrating when you see somebody slip through the cracks, and it does a disservice to the lead who has no idea, because what if they pick that problematic person? It's been done before," she added.
Lindsay speaks from experience since during her season in 2017, contestant Lee Garrett was called out for writing racist tweets that resurfaced after her show's premiere.
The reality star has previously said she felt Garrett was intentionally cast to "add controversy."
"Forget having a necessarily good storyline. Tighten up who you're choosing on the show, because these are the people who are going out and representing the show," she told Insider back in January.
On February 2, James released a statement defending Kirkconnell from the swirling rumors.
"I have not spoken to anybody since the show ended, but I would say that you have to be really careful about what you are doing on social media," James told Entertainment Tonight.
"Rumors are dark and nasty and can ruin people's lives," he added. "So I would give people the benefit of the doubt, and hopefully she will have her time to speak on that."
Two days later, photos emerged of Kirkconnell at a plantation-themed fraternity party in 2018.
Pictures showed Kirkconnell wearing an antebellum-style plantation dress at a Kappa Alpha-hosted "Old South" party while she was a student at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville, Georgia in 2018.
—Rosé (@TeaAndRoses21) February 4, 2021
Her cousin Anastasia confirmed to The Sun that the photos were authentic and said they were "hard to defend."
On February 9, Harrison sat down with Lindsay for an interview and called for people to give Kirkconnell "a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion."
During the more than 13-minute interview, where Lindsay is a correspondent for Extra, Harrison defended Kirkconnell.
"I've seen some stuff online where people are just tearing this girl's life apart and diving into, like, her parents and her parents' voting record," Harrison said. "It's unbelievably alarming to watch this. I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago and that's it."
"Well the picture was from 2018 at an Old South antebellum party, so I think, you know, that's not a good look," Lindsay replied. "She's celebrating the Old South. If I went to that party, what would I represent at that party?"
Harrison said Lindsay was "100% right in 2021," but claimed that wouldn't have been the case three years ago.
"And again, I'm not defending Rachael. I just know that, I don't know, 50 million people did that in 2018. That was a type of party that a lot of people went to," he added. "We are not looking under the same lens."
Harrison went on to say that "the woke police is out there," and that Kirkconnell had been "thrown to the lions."
Shortly after the interview, a petition was launched to remove Harrison from "The Bachelor."
It wasn't long before a Change.org petition was created. It has received more than 41,000 signatures at the time of writing.
Harrison was also criticized on Twitter by many prominent "Bachelor" fans and writers, as well as Lindsay herself.
When Huffington Post writer Emma Gray praised Lindsay for how she handled the interview and dealt with the franchise, the "Bachelorette" star replied: "My days are numbered."
—Rachel Lindsay (@TheRachLindsay) February 10, 2021
On February 10, Harrison took to Instagram to apologize for what he said during the interview with Lindsay.
Harrison said he realized he had caused "harm by wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism."
"To my Bachelor Nation family — I will always own a mistake when I make one, so I am here to extend a sincere apology," Harrison wrote. "I have this incredible platform to speak about love, and yesterday I took a stance on topics about which I should have been better informed."
"While I do not speak for Rachael Kirkconnell, my intentions were simply to ask for grace in offering her an opportunity to speak on her own behalf," he continued.
Harrison also apologized to Lindsay for "not listening to her better on a topic she has a first-hand understanding of" and said that he "promised to do better."
A day later, Kirkconnell released a statement of her own and said that her "ignorance was racist."
Although rumors had been swirling since January, it took about a month for Kirkconnell to address them on social media.
"While there have been rumors circulating, there have also been truths that have come to light that I need to address. I hear you, and I'm here to say I was wrong," Kirkconnell wrote in her apology, which she also posted to Instagram.
"At one point, I didn't recognize how offensive and racist my actions were, but that doesn't excuse them," she said. "My age or when it happened does not excuse anything. They are not OK or acceptable in any sense. I was ignorant, but my ignorance was racist."
On February 12, dozens of "Bachelor" alums released joint statements supporting Lindsay.
But the apologies from Harrison and Kirkconnell did little to quell the brewing storm.
More than 30 contestants on James' season of "The Bachelor" posted a joint statement on their Instagram accounts condemning Harrison's remarks and advocating for change in the franchise.
"We are deeply disappointed and want to make it clear that we denounce any defense of racism," the statement read. "Any defense of racist behavior denies the lived and continued experiences of BIPOC individuals. The experiences are not to be exploited or tokenized."
"Rachel Lindsay continues to advocate with 'grace' for individuals who identify as BIPOC within this franchise," it continued. "Just because she is speaking the loudest, doesn't mean she is alone. We stand with her, we hear her, and we advocate for change alongside her."
The men who appeared on Crawley and Adams' season of "The Bachelorette" soon posted a joint statement in support of Lindsay as well.
"The addition of more people who identify as BIPOC has opened up the conversation on race, community, and who we are as people," it read. "A conversation that has been long overdue."
"We stand united in denouncing racist behavior and any defense thereof. We also stand united with the women of Season 25 of the Bachelor, who had denounced the same; moreover, we stand united with Rachel Lindsay, who has led the way."
That same day, Lindsay, James, and Adams - the franchise's three Black leads - all spoke out about Harrison's interview.
In an Instagram story, Adams told her fans that the past week had been "eye-opening."
"I am really hurt and disappointed and confused at the ignorance when it comes to race," she said. "When there are blatant forms of racist acts, you cannot be defensive of it. It speaks volumes and I just have to say that I am really hurt by this response."
On his own Instagram story, James wrote that he was "beyond grateful" to have Lindsay as a mentor.
"Your advocacy of BIPOC people in the franchise is invaluable, I stand with you and the rest of the women advocating for change and accountability," he added.
Meanwhile, Lindsay said during her "Higher Learning" podcast that Harrison had "no problems" with their interview until the backlash began.
"He was fine. He texted me after. He appreciated the conversation. He was like, 'Yeah, I'll probably get a little flack,' but thought it was great we could disagree but do it in a civil way," she said. "It wasn't until the backlash came the next day...that he then apologized to me and then apologized publicly."
Lindsay went on to say she was "f------ tired" of the franchise's ongoing issues with diversity, and that she was done with Bachelor Nation.
"I'm contractually bound in some ways," she said. "But when it's up, I can't. I can't do it anymore."
On February 13, Harrison announced he was "stepping aside" from "The Bachelor" franchise for "a period of time."
Harrison took to Instagram again and said he was "ashamed of how uninformed I was."
"I have spent the last few days listening to the pain my words have caused, and I am deeply remorseful," he wrote. "I have no one to blame but myself for what I said and the way I spoke. By excusing historical racism, I defended it. I invoked the term 'woke police,' which is unacceptable."
"This historic season of 'The Bachelor' should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions," he added, revealing he would not join for the "After the Final Rose" special at the end of James' season and was dedicated to "getting educated on a more profound and productive level than ever before."
On February 16, Lindsay said she wasn't sure if Harrison should permanently leave the franchise.
Although there's calls for Harrison to leave "The Bachelor" franchise permanently, Lindsay isn't so sure about that right now.
"I need to see what happens between now and the time that it's potentially announced he's coming back," she said during Tuesday's episode of her "Higher Learning" podcast. "I'll tell you what I'll be mad about: He goes away, we don't see him at the finale, and he pops back up in 'Paradise' like the last four or five months didn't happen."
"You need to show me that there's been some change within you," she added. "Disappearing from the public eye isn't the change I need to see. I want to see you volunteering. I want to see you donating."
On February 22, James issued a lengthy statement about the controversy, calling the last few weeks "some of the most challenging in my life."
James called Kirkconnell's photos and Harrison's interview "incredibly disappointing," and said the recent events had been "devastating and heartbreaking."
"Chris' 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," he wrote.
"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," James continued.
The reality star promised "you will hear more from me in the end," and said he hoped the recent controversy would lead to "real and institutional change for the better."
Read the original article on Insider