Diversity in dating shows is not real diversity

The reality tv show genre is finally facing their lack of BIPOC representation. Photo by Gorodenkoff on depositphotos.com

As an avid consumer of reality dating shows, I know far too much about The Bachelor franchise, and I have seen all seven seasons of Love Island UK more times than I’d like to admit. 

When watching these shows, it’s impossible not to see the parallels between what happens in the Love Island villa and what happens in the real world. Dating shows constantly overlook women of color in predominantly white, heteronormative dating arenas. 

It’s no secret that these shows are heterosexual entertainment at their finest. Executives tailor them to a straight, white audience. The one time The Bachelor franchise depicted an LGBTQ+ storyline was with two blonde and blue-eyed women. 

It’s not a very progressive choice and not an accurate depiction of what queerness looks like in real life. 

It’s not too surprising when you consider that they don’t cast anyone over a size four or with a name that isn’t Hannah or Ashley.

Out of all 20 years and 40 seasons of The Bachelor, there have only been four Black leads. Rachel Lindsay, the first Black lead in the history of the franchise, recently said in a 2021 interview with Vulture, “I thought I could change The Bachelor franchise from within. Until I realized I was their token.”  

What does it say about the franchise as a whole when the only Black male lead in 20 years of The Bachelor after being introduced to 25 incredible women of color turns around and picks the white girl with a documented history of racially insensitive behavior? 

There is a culture of racism that runs so deep, that many Black people who come onto the show have internalized it. 

Too often, we see beautiful dark-skinned Black women have tearful journeys searching for love, pining for the white man’s heart just to be used as a pawn and ultimately tossed aside for the blonde, blue-eyed girl. 

It’s  heartbreaking but incredibly discouraging when TV shows make the only people who look like you portrayed as undesirable.

In the most recent seasons of reality shows, casting directors have tried to be more diverse in their casting process. In 2021, after criticism from past contestants and fans, CBS pledged that the future casts of shows like Survivor, Big Brother and Love Island would have at least 50% people of color to be more progressive.

Though this shows a small amount of progress, casting isn’t necessarily the only thing that makes a show diverse. It’s about inclusivity in the boardroom, meaning people from different cultures and walks of life take part in the creation and execution of the show. 

Simply casting a few Black contestants is not enough. 

We need more BIPOC in the writing rooms, in the producers’ seats, and as the creators of these shows. 

When a show is rooted in a white heteronormative culture, it is impossible to create a truly diverse environment within the confines of that exclusive setting, no matter how many people of color you cast.