Not buying it. Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who cocreated the show UnREAL based on her alleged experiences as a former Bachelor producer, addressed Chris Harrison’s controversial remarks about season 25 contestant Rachael Kirkconnell.
“I felt like Chris sort of claiming that he didn’t know if a picture at a plantation would’ve been a good look in 2018 — he’s like, ‘How would she have known? The lens in 2020 didn’t exist yet.’ — really touched a nerve for me because UnREAL very much served this storyline in 2016 and the genre was very much put on notice by that season within the entertainment community,” Shapiro, 43, exclusively told Us Weekly on Tuesday, March 16. “It was definitely talked about. Like, UnREAL had a Black male lead before the other show had [one] … and so I absolutely know he was aware of that and I just call complete and utter bulls–t on that being his defensive.”
Harrison, 49, sparked backlash in February when he defended Kirkconnell, 24, against allegations of racism that stemmed from her attendance at an antebellum-themed plantation party and “likes” of photos that featured the Confederate flag. The Georgia native has since apologized for her actions, although the scandal led to her split from Bachelor Matt James after they left the show together.
“I saw a picture of her at a sorority party five years ago, that’s it,” Harrison told Rachel Lindsay on Extra at the time. “My guess? These girls got dressed up and went to a party and had a great time, they were 18 years old. Now, does that make it OK? I don’t know, Rachel, you tell me. Where is this lens we’re holding up and was that lens available and were we all looking through it in 2018? I don’t know.”
After the former Bachelorette, 35, responded that it was “not a good look” regardless, the host said, “Is it [not] a good look in 2018 or is it not a good look in 2021? … I’m not defending Rachael, I just know that 50 million people did that in 2018.” Harrison later apologized and took a step back from his hosting duties.
Shapiro, who worked as a Bachelor producer from 2002 to 2004, thinks the franchise has “a bigger problem” than just Harrison. “I don’t think it was just about this one season or this one girl at all,” she told Us. “I think it feels like a top-down problem in the franchise, and I’m glad people are starting to talk about it.”
“I think it’s such a move in the right direction. Like, watching Chris’ interview on Extra, I was like, ‘This is a master class in oppression, and it feels so dated.’ Like, it feels like such a dinosaur,” she noted. “Him cutting [Lindsay] off and talking over her and saying like, ‘Well, I don’t know which group is right in this case,’ and it’s like, well, obviously the group that’s oppressed probably knows more about it than you do. He just seems so behind the times, and I think that it’s such an appropriate decision to just update the franchise. Take a look at the executive producer ranks, take a look at the host, like, bring it into 2021.”
Shapiro also agreed with James’ decision to break up with Kirkconnell amid the scandal. “I think that had a lot of integrity. I think it was a really smart decision on his part, and I think it’s going to make the franchise more interesting, honestly,” she said. “I know people were saying it was a bummer of a season, but I actually think it was a really interesting step for the franchise because I think if they start having these conversations in a big way, it’s just going to be more relevant. Like, I think it’s just going to be more interesting and more timely, so I feel like he had to break up with her.”
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She continued: “I think it’s also so problematic for people to say, ‘How can she be racist if she’s dating a Black man?’ which is just the classic cringe-worthy excuse. You can be totally racist and be married to a Black man. You can be a total misogynist and be married to a woman. That’s just not an excuse. So, I mean, I don’t have a decree on who she is or whatever, but I think given the situation, it was completely right that he broke up with her.”
UnREAL is now streaming on Hulu.
With reporting by Diana Cooper