Ethan Kang from “The Bachelorette.”

We Need an Asian Lead on ‘The Bachelor’—Here’s Why

Another white Bachelor?! C'mon ABC, Ethan Kang would have been perfect

Ethan Kang from “The Bachelorette.”

ABC

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Words by Andre Lawes Menchavez

During The Bachelorette finale last week, host Jesse Palmer announced the next Bachelor would be the bland all-American tech executive, Zach Shallcross. “I’m just happy that the Bachelor doesn’t look like me for once,” Palmer, a white man, said while sitting across from Shallcross—another white man.

Although the comment was made to poke fun at memes claiming the last white male Bachelor, Clayton Echard, looked like Palmer, it was still an insensitive comment to make. I cringed, with a wine glass in hand, as these two white men were relishing in this statement, considering the franchise and the fandom have gone through countless bland white male Bachelors in the 20 years it’s been on air—and we’ve had to suffer through the franchise's several racism controversies from the show’s white contestants. White winners of recent seasons have even been exposed for attending an anti-Black plantation-themed party and dressing up in Blackface, the latter being an incident the show didn’t even want to address on air.

This discrepancy in Asian casting on the show is not just about wanting representation of Asian people, it’s also an evident reminder of how Asian bodies are treated in the entertainment industry, and especially in the pursuit of finding love.

In the summer of 2020, when performative activism was all the rage, ABC’s executive producers released a statement saying: “We are taking positive steps to expand diversity in our cast, in our staff, and most importantly, in the relationships that we show on television…We can and will do better to reflect the world around us and show all of its beautiful love stories.”

It was a statement as bland as their white leads. Because two years after that statement and two decades into this franchise, we have yet to have an Asian Bachelor or Bachelorette. And this discrepancy in Asian casting on the show is not just about wanting representation of Asian people, it’s also an evident reminder of how Asian bodies are treated in the entertainment industry, and especially in the pursuit of finding love.

Ethan Kang, a 28-year-old Korean American advertising executive from New York, was the only Asian cast this year, despite there being twice the number of contestants this season, as there were two Bachelorettes. Kang was a heartthrob throughout his run on the show, outspoken about his lactose intolerance like the Asian king he is, and became an instant icon after calling the season’s ultimate villain, Tino, a “baby back bitch.” His run on the show was cut short right before the final four, leading to a lot of support from social media fans to make him the next Bachelor, hopeful to see our dairy-adverse hottie get his own chance at love.

One supporter in particular was Simu Liu, who has spoken about the lack of Asian representation on the show before.

“Another season of The Bachelorette and still no Asian guys,” Liu tweeted in 2019. “That’s why you have low quality dudes trying to fight each other on national television lol. By all means keep scraping the barrel #justsaying.”

Liu recently reposted a—spicy—shirtless picture of Kang out by a lake, captioning it: “Make this man the Bachelor!”

Kang replied with: “When the first Asian Marvel superhero reposts you. My year is made. Thank you @simuliu, you’re truly an inspiration.”

Kang’s been vocal in his demand for an Asian Bachelor from the start. His post-elimination Instagram post read: “As a Korean-American man I want to say how truly honored I am to be the first full Asian-American to make it this far on The Bachelorette. With that said, why has it taken this damn long? As the only Asian male this season, it made me think: where's the Asian representation? @bachelornation I believe love should never be discriminated by shape, color, creed, or sexual orientation!”

And after the oh so incredibly diverse casting of another white male Bachelor lead was announced, Kang tweeted: “I love Zach but ABC lacking Asian Representation seems to be far too common. #TheBachelorettes #ABC #asianrepresentation #aapi”

A 2021 study on the 1,300 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2019, conducted by the University of Southern California’s Inclusion Initiative, found that only 3.4% of the films had an Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) lead/co-lead. Further, regarding depictions of romance for AAPI characters, 58% of AAPI men and 37.5% of AAPI women were shown to have no romantic partners. The study also revealed that the entertainment industry has heavy portrayals of AAPI people being “... silenced, stereotyped, tokenized, isolated, and sidekicks/villains…Most troublingly, portrayals of [AAPI] characters still include violence, death, and disparagement.”

He, and we as Asian people, are so much more than one dimensional beings; we deserve representation beyond tokenized casting

We fell in love with Kang because of his honest hot takes on his fellow contestants, his openness about his own personality and shortcomings, and even the cat-like crawl he did during a challenge to seduce the lead Bachelorette. Although he was iconic, endearing and, in my opinion, the hottest person in the cast, ultimately his on-screen moments largely felt like they were produced to be comedic. While other contestants got screentime that showed their complexities, Kang was reduced to a specific comedic persona in the episodes, and fans were only able to get to know him through his social media off the show. The show once again fell into the tropes these studies mentioned. He, and we as Asian people, are so much more than one dimensional beings; we deserve representation beyond tokenized casting. Seeing someone like Kang in the Bachelor position would catapult Asian Americans into a place of power and idealization, even potentially combatting the social beliefs people may have of Asian people that have led to the heightened cases of violence against Asians in the US.

This conversation is more than superficial visibility, it’s a shift in the narrative.

Despite the show's wild success and Kang’s rising popularity, he was still kind enough to get back to my DM’s on Instagram. But although he tried his best to connect me with the right people to get an interview, ABC and Warner Bros. declined our request for an interview with him about the franchise’s lack of Asian representation. They were, as their email stated, too “focused on promotion of Bachelor in Paradise,” a spinoff of the series.

Reading that email definitely made me need to pour out a number of wine glasses. I poured more wine glasses than the number of Asian people cast on the franchise combined, honestly. It was an eerie moment feeling the performative nature of this reality TV franchise become so tangible. The show can’t address its recent winner doing Blackface, but instead spends air-time on the finale to run ads for a white film and the Kardashians’ new series during their programming. And now the show won’t allocate their time to allow their only Asian contestant to speak about their racial concerns for the show or provide him the platform to combat it as the Bachelor, but instead will invest time into promoting their spinoffs and giving another white man the lead spot.

I poured more wine glasses than the number of Asian people cast on the franchise combined, honestly.

It was a reminder that this show has a 20-year-old issue to address and atone for regarding Asian representation, one that Ethan Kang especially would’ve been a great step toward achieving.

Having an Asian lead in this franchise would show so many people of the Asian diasporas that they, too, deserve to find love and be loved, that we are more than a comedic segment for white America to laugh at, and that we have our own stories, our own passions, and our own lusts and longings for love that transcend what Hollywood has always depicted us to be.

So ABC, if you’re listening and aren’t spineless “baby back bitches,” give us the diversity you promised when your back was up against a wall, pleading a commitment to display all love stories when your white-dominated show was under critique. It’s time we see the Asian Bachelor we’ve been waiting decades for.

Published on September 27, 2022

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Words by Andre Lawes Menchavez

Andre Lawes Menchavez (he/him) is a Filipinx, Indigenous and queer community organizer who uses journalism as a tool of activism, constantly seeking to lift up marginalized communities through his work. He received his BA in Law, Societies and Justice at the University of Washington and is about to graduate with his Master’s in Specialized Journalism—with a focus in Race and Social Justice Reporting—from the University of Southern California.