As reported yesterday, Nashville natives Nathaniel Claybrooks and Christopher Johnson followed through with their threat to file a class action lawsuit against ABC and the producers of The Bachelor franchise for purposeful discrimination against people of color (African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans). The two African-American men and their lawyers discussed their hopes for what they think will be a “landmark civil rights case that will move social justice and economic equality forward.” Said attorney Cyrus Mehri, “They’re doing their small part in the Unites States’ journey to be a more inclusive country, to be a more diverse country, and to be a country that is far more tolerant than this series would suggest.”
Both Claybrooks, an entrepreneur and former all-American football player, and Johnson, an aspiring NFL athlete and active community servant, applied during an open casting call for The Bachelor/ette in August 2011. While Claybrooks claimed that his interview process took less than half the time of white applicants in front of him, Johnson alleges he “did not get the opportunity to even make it to the second level” like Claybrooks. He explained, “I was stopped by a young gentleman about five feet into the door. He saw fit to ask me exactly what was I doing here.” Both men felt they were unfairly dismissed because of their race. “Looking back at how I was treated at the casting call last year, it was clear that that wasn’t possible—I never even had a chance,” said Claybrooks.
Mehri suggested this was not an isolated phenomenon. He said that executive producer and defendant Mike Fleiss’ insistence that the show does not get a enough applicants of color was “just pretext. We think they purposely do not want people of color on this show.” He said of his clients, “These two gentlemen have come forward and so have dozens of other people… all they’re seeking is an equal opportunity, an equal chance to compete.” He estimated there have been dozens, maybe even hundreds of contestants turned away based on race, then asked, “How do you explain zero [Bachelors and Bachelorettes of color] for 23 [seasons]?”
“The ripple of that form of discrimination is very powerful in this country,” Mehri continued, noting that ABC and the producers of The Bachelor “are sending a message of exclusiveness — of denying people opportunity — and that has a negative effect on this country that we plan today to start to turn around. This is a case about hope and change. We believe we have concrete solutions about how to make this show… into a kind of show that will be inclusive, will be diverse, and will better reflect this country.” Offered Mehri’s co-counsel Byron Perkins, “Quite frankly, if we had one, we probably wouldn’t be here today — just one.”
Whether that “one” will be African-American Portland sportcaster Lamar Hurd remains to be seen. Mehri said he thought Hurd’s talks with Bachelor producers showed that they’ve “been on notice that this is a serious problem.” He said they would keep abrest of Hurd’s attempt to become the first black Bachelor, but affirmed that “there’s a lot to be done and that this is a case that goes beyond what’s going with his campaign.”
The men refused to discuss their financial goals for the case. Instead, Mehri insisted, “This case is impact litigation… it can be a vehicle for change.” They suggested making the show’s casting semi-finals “more inclusive” so that “hopefully the top candidates will emerge, and some of those candidates will be people of diverse backgrounds.”
On a less serious note, Perkins noted that still single Claybrooks and Johnson are already fielding heavy interests beyond their news value, joking, “We’ve already had calls from people who want to interview them over dinner tonight.”
Warner Horizon Television, one of the producers of The Bachelor, responded to the allegations on Wednesday, saying they are “baseless and without merit.” EW has also reached out to ABC for comment.