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Jenn Tran’s turn as ‘Bachelorette’ will make history. Can the series fix its diversity mistakes?

In Entertainment
July 09, 2024
Jenn Tran’s turn as ‘Bachelorette’ will make history. Can the series fix its diversity mistakes?

Jenn Tran, a Vietnamese American graduate student studying to be a physician’s assistant, is calling the shots as 25 suitors compete for her attention and the final rose when The Bachelorette premieres July 8.

Tran will be familiar to viewers of the Bachelor franchise. The 26-year-old New Jersey native was first introduced in Joey Graziadei’s Bachelor season earlier this year, making it to the final six before getting eliminated. She was officially announced as the Bachelorette during The Bachelor’s “After the Final Rose” special on March 26.

At the time, Tran expressed excitement over her historic casting, saying she felt “so grateful and so honored to be the first Asian Bachelorette in this franchise,” and cited her desire “to see Asian representation on TV.”

“Any time Asians were in the media it was to fill a supporting character role, to fulfill some sort of stereotype, and I always felt boxed in by that because I was like, I don’t see myself onscreen. I don’t see myself as a main character,” she said during the March special, a sentiment she has since reiterated in the press blitz leading up to her season premiere.

But when the cast of suitors vying for Tran’s heart was unveiled on June 3, the lack of Asian men, especially those with similar cultural backgrounds, raised eyebrows among fans. Tran admitted her disappointment over the casting concerns, telling Glamour that it was “unfortunate that there weren’t a lot of Asian men this season,” further fueling allegations of the franchise’s tendency to put people of color in token roles.

Only one suitor, Thomas Nguyen, is identified as Asian American in his official Bachelorette bio for the upcoming season.

“That’s on us. We didn’t do what we needed to do,” Bachelor executive producer Bennett Graebner told the Los Angeles Times in an interview ahead of the season premiere.

It’s just one of the many diversity woes and race-related controversies that have plagued The Bachelor and Bachelorette since the shows first went on the air in the early 2000s. While Tran represents Bachelor Nation’s latest non-white lead, following Rachel Lindsay and Matt James, who were the first Black Bachelorette in 2017 and the first Black Bachelor in 2020, respectively, as well as Bachelorettes Tayshia Adams, Michelle Young and Charity Lawson, there is still a long way to go.

Matt James holding a rose.

Matt James poses for a promotional photo for “The Bachelor.” (Billy Kidd via Getty Images)

Following their respective seasons, Lindsay and James distanced themselves from the reality franchise over the shows’ various misfires involving race and the conversations surrounding it.

After years of silence, Bachelor producers are beginning to publicly acknowledge their past failures in being racially diverse and culturally sensitive.

“We’re not always going to get it right,” Graebner told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re going to make mistakes as we move forward. But we’re not going to shy away from difficult conversations.”

With Tran stepping into the Bachelorette spotlight, the series will be under a microscope once more as it attempts to right past wrongs.

Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist and the author of Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism, told Yahoo Entertainment that the franchise’s race-based issues come down to a systemic bias that hasn’t been corrected to adequately mirror an increasingly diverse society. The franchise reportedly employs two therapists, one of whom is a person of color, and works with a diversity and inclusion consultant for producers and cast needs.

“[The Bachelor franchise] really takes a lot for granted,” Yuen explained, implying that those internal moves are just baby steps. “They need someone who is essential in the entire process to actually make the changes because you don’t know what’s going to come up — whether it’s in casting, whether it’s in reaction to online harassment, whether it’s interpersonal [communication] between people in the show.”

“You can’t just be brought in to put out fires. That’s too late by then,” she continued. “I hope they are able to course-correct — not just for the big things, but for things that are still destructive that they’re probably not aware of.”

Carolyn Huynh, author of The Fortunes of Jaded Women, observed that the reality franchise hasn’t “been able to keep up with the times.”

Huynh, who is of Vietnamese descent, said the failure to broaden the pool of Bachelorette suitors to include more Asian men for Tran’s season is a symptom of a larger problem. The avenues that may have worked 10 years ago aren’t as effective now. “It reflects how behind they are,” she told Yahoo Entertainment.

Yuen agreed, adding, “They’re going through the same streams they have always gone through. They need to be aware that communities of color are not going to have access to the same casting notices that they’ve relied on and so you have to cast a wider net. You have to be aware first that you have this bias to know that.”

It’s also leaving behind the opportunity for audiences “to see real Asian American men and dispel the model minority stereotype,” Yuen said. “If you get a cross-section, then you’re going to get lots of different folks who aren’t being represented onscreen fictionally. And that leads to more storytelling. A lot of people watch reality [TV] to get stories and [reimagine] certain groups because there is so little representation, especially in a dating [show].”

The Bachelorette won’t shy away from showcasing or discussing Tran’s Vietnamese culture — something the franchise has historically failed to do with other people of color on the show.

Tran told the Associated Press that she and her mother, who immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam with Tran’s father and brother, speak Vietnamese on the show. The first episode also features Tran’s family cooking a large Vietnamese meal. “I hope… I’m exposing people to something that’s different than them and… that can incite acceptance into people,” she said.

“I’m curious how they’re going to represent Jenn and how Jenn is going to be edited,” Yuen said, pointing out the stereotypes Asian women are sometimes portrayed as in media, like a “dragon lady” or a victim. “I would love for it to be edited so that she’s a complex subject who is going on her own journey of love.”

Huynh voiced concerns over how The Bachelorette will depict Tran and her family’s story. “I’m nervous, especially for a Southeast Asian Bachelorette who was the child of refugees, it’s kind of an interesting full-circle moment.”

“Now that she’s the Bachelorette, I feel like this can be an opportunity to show Asian women as in control of their own destinies, which is something that Asian women have not been represented in Hollywood [as],” Yuen said. “Something like The Bachelorette, which is a huge franchise that many people watch and know, it is an opportunity to represent Asian women [positively].”

The Bachelorette premieres July 8 on ABC and streams the next day on Hulu.

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