A Tennessee judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by two black men who were suing ABC over alleged racial discrimination on “The Bachelor,” essentially deciding that casting is protected by the First Amendment. ABC has denied their practices are discriminatory, despite the fact its crop of “Bachelor” bros are the whitest crop of white dudes this side of a Tea Party rally.
The plaintiffs, Christopher Johnson and Nathaniel Claybrooks, had both auditioned for “The Bachelor” in 2011 and were not cast. But instead of skulking away with their tail between their legs, they sued. The men argued that casting a television show is essentially hiring employees and that ABC had a pattern of hiring only white employees for that particular position. There has never been a non-white “Bachelor” or “Bachelorette,” despite the occasional non-white member of the dating pool; one theory was that the show shied away from appearing to promote interracial dating.
ABC argued — and the judge disagreed — that casting was part of the creative development of the show and was that protected by the First Amendment. NPR’s culture blog Monkey See has a good, concise breakdown of the legalese:
What ABC successfully argued in this case (which could be appealed, by the way) is that it has a First Amendment right to exclude people of color as a creative decision in the process of casting shows. The judge isn’t saying it happened and ABC isn’t admitting it happened, but the judge is agreeing with ABC that even if it happened, it’s not illegal, and that’s why the case was dismissed.
That’s a sticky wicket: both sides are right in their respective justification in their arguments. I do think “artists” (if you will indulge me for a second and call “The Bachelor” producers/casting director “artists”) have to have their First Amendment protections and should not be told how to create their art. In her motion to dismiss, the judge pointed out that networks market their programming towards different groups based on gender, race or sexual orientation, such as BET and LOGO. “[T]he content of any television show that does not have a sufficiently diverse cast would be or would have been subject to court scrutiny,” the judge wrote. Don’t worry, MTV. You will not be forced to cast smart people on “Jersey Shore.”
But I also think that ABC is completely full of shit. Essentially the judge said, which ABC isn’t disputing, that this show is a “white people show.” It has not just happened this way that “Bachelor”/”Bachelorette” cast members are predominantly Caucasian. To that end, it’s also not a coincidence that everyone cast on the show is (to the best of my knowledge — feel free to chime in, Frisky Chief “Bachelor”-ologist Amelia McDonell-Parry) attractive by conventional standards, slim, and able-bodied. They are casting these people as desirable for a reason — not because reality TV shows are a reflection of reality, but because they are often a reflection of mainstream cultural prejudices of who is worthy of love and who isn’t. It’s a shame that these guys lost their case not just because they’re missing out on all those chicks in bikinis and hot tub action, but because TV networks now have a precedent for continuing to reinforce those prejudices in their reality show casting.
The full ruling is available online here and worth a read. One fundamental question explored by the judge is how can we legally determine when a role should be color-specific versus colorblind? Unfortunately, people in Hollywood and people who support Hollywood’s exclusion of PoC will use this ruling to support how things currently are. This ruling holds Hollywood to a different standard than other fields of employment. Here, freedom of speech trumps equal opportunity employment laws.