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UnREAL creator on addressing race in season 2

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After 20 seasons, The Bachelor has yet to feature a title star who is black, but this season of UnREAL will be exploring what might happen if it ever did. The drama series has a professional football player, played by B.J. Britt, as the suitor on its show-within-a-show, Everlasting, and that’s going to bring up so many racial issues, even the Lifetime show’s creator was nervous about it.

“It was scary,” Sarah Gertrude Shapiro admitted Sunday during a panel at Vulture Festival, where she recalled running the concept by her diverse team of writers. “I said, ‘I think it’s going to be really uncomfortable, I think it’s super-dangerous, but I feel like it’s worth doing — how do you guys feel?’ And then we talked about it and they were like, ‘It does feel worth doing but I think it is going to be really awkward.'”

And they were right. “We spent the first couple weeks having Janine [Nabers] and Ariana [Jackson, two writers on the show who are black] just talk most of the time and us just listening about that stuff and getting past that. There were a couple really awkward lunches ‘cause it got a little bit heated, but in a way that felt respectful the entire time,” Shapiro said. “I’m somebody who I feel like has spent some time thinking about it, but I learned so much in those first two weeks.”

When it came time to dig into the character of Ruby, an activist and one of the women vying for the suitor’s heart, the producers urged actress Denée Benton to be honest with them. “She’s the one who has to vocalize a lot of this stuff,” executive producer Carol Barbee explained. “I was like, ‘Dude, you have to save us. You have to tell us if you are even the slightest bit uncomfortable or if we’re getting it wrong.’ So she’s called me a bunch of times and she’s been really open about that.”

Shapiro, who worked on The Bachelor for many years before eventually conceptualizing UnREAL, admitted even she’s not quite sure why we have yet to see a black Bachelor: “I can’t totally answer that except that I’ve been in the industry for 16 years or something now and I just know it’s really scary or something for ad sales people. That’s the best answer I can come up with. I don’t really understand why.”

The choice “makes sense from the point of view of the show,” Barbee explained, “because Rachel and Quinn are making a television show and it’s an incendiary topic that’s going to be noisy and get them ratings. Rachel’s doing it for the right reasons — certainly in the beginning — and Quinn is like, ‘This is noisy, let’s go do this.'”

Season 2 of UnREAL premieres on June 6 at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime. Watch a recap of season 1 and preview of season 2 below.