Until now, I’ve managed to resist the Bachelor/Bachelorette empire. I occasionally took a gander at Bachelor in Paradise, which is more of a highly produced island-based orgy, but I could never fully commit to that much bronzer and talk about “feeling a real deep connection.”
This time, it’s different. This season’s Bachelorette is Rachel Lindsay, a defense attorney who is black. That is a revelation to me.
Black women are rarely the Cinderellas in our modern fairytales. We’re so infrequently the belle of the ball that in dozens of film and television adaptations of the classic fairytale, only one black woman was cast as Cinderella: Brandy Norwood. More felt puppets have been filmed finding their Prince Charming than black women.
Go ahead—think of a rom-com with a black female lead. It’s difficult, but not impossible. Now think of one with a white female lead. The list is endless. Thus, despite a wilful distance from the show, I was all in for Monday’s season 13 premiere of The Bachelorette.
The episode starts with an intro to the latest Bachelorette and then launches into video teasers for a few of the men. Like most dating, it was a mix of early front-runners and possible psychopaths.
Before the men arrive at Rachel’s new Husband-Hunting House, she meets up with some of the other “unselected” ladies from the previous Bachelor season. We are meant to believe that they are friends, and I kind of do.
“You need to totally let your feelings be in control,” says Corinne Olympios. “Don’t judge anybody because they come in a costume,” is more bad advice, shared by Alexis Waters (a.k.a. Shark/Dolphin Girl).
After the ladies finish their champagne chat, the shenanigans truly begin. Muscled men start piling out of limousines.
Will, a sales manager, comes out dressed as Steve Urkel only to go back in the limo and return as Stefan Urquelle. That is the blackest thing to happen on ABC since Olivia Pope’s last rant.
Brady, a male model, comes out with a sledgehammer and a block of ice which he uses to break the ice. Rachel likes this alleged “joke.”
In my nightmares, a white man plays guitar at me, so needless to say I found Lee’s musical entrance terrifying.
Somewhere in the middle, forgettable characters are introduced, including a guy with a vacuum, another with a dummy of himself (“Adam Jr. from Lyon, France”) and one guy in a penguin suit (“I’m gonna waddle right into her heart”).
I’m exhausted for her. And then comes “Whaboom” (given name: Lucas). This is clearly a man who has never internalized the word “No.” In response to the Whaboom guy, one of the other contestants asks if the producers drug test. It seems like a valid question to me.
Through all of this, Rachel is the picture of grace and generosity. Even when there’s some pretty unpleasant jostling for her attention, she pretends it’s not happening—and I can’t pretend I wasn’t excited about it.
In the Man Den where the contestants have been left to loiter, they are really lovely about Rachel, her intellect, her beauty. A few of them even start claiming her as their future wife.
They make jokes with her, they share stories of their lives and they work real hard to impress her. One guy says he moved to Los Angeles for the beach and wants to build a sandcastle with her. He has never built a sandcastle. It’s a terrible idea, but somehow even more romantic because it’s awkward.
Aside from not being able to tell the suitors apart anymore (there were 31 of them), I’m overwhelmed with all the attention this black woman is getting. Not only is she being seen as a prize, but also as fully human, worthy of attention and deserving of only the best.
By putting a black woman at the centre of the fairytale, the script has been flipped: not only have dozens of men chosen her, now she gets to decide which one is worthy of her. I’ll be watching.