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Damon Lindelof Responds to Accusations of Racism, Toxicity on ‘Lost’

  • Damon Lindelof addressed accusations of racism and toxicity on the set of “Lost.”
  • Lindelof, show writers, and actor Harold Perrineau spoke to Maureen Ryan about the allegations.
  • Lindelof said hearing Perrineau’s negative experience on the show “breaks my heart.”

Damon Lindelof addressed allegations of racism and toxicity on the set of the ABC hit series “Lost” that he cocreated, saying that hearing about actor Harold Perrineau’s negative experiences “breaks my heart.”

In an excerpt from “Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, And A Call For Change In Hollywood” by TV critic and reporter Maureen Ryan published in Vanity Fair, numerous writers and actors on “Lost” recounted instances of racist behavior and remarks they’d personally encountered while working on the show. The allegations included racist commentary in the writers’ room and disregard for the characters of color in the drama’s large ensemble cast.

Multiple sources, including season three writer Monica Owusu-Breen, also said they’d heard Lindelof remark that Perrineau, a Black actor who starred on the show as Michael Dawson in seasons one, two, and four, “called me racist, so I fired his ass.” (According to Ryan, some sources had heard other variations of the remark, but all boiled down to Lindelof “firing” Perrineau after Lindelof felt Perrineau had accused him of racism.)

Speaking to Ryan in 2022 regarding the allegations, Lindelof said he didn’t recall “ever” saying that he’d fired Perrineau after feeling accused of racism by the actor.

“What can I say? Other than it breaks my heart that that was Harold’s experience,” Lindelof told Ryan in 2022. “And I’ll just cede that the events that you’re describing happened 17 years ago, and I don’t know why anybody would make that up about me.”

‘It became pretty clear that I was the Black guy. Daniel [Dae Kim] was the Asian guy. And then you had Jack and Kate and Sawyer’

Harold Perrineau on "Lost."



Mario Perez/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images


Perrineau was one of the higher-profile actors to sign onto the show, having starred in two “Matrix” films and the HBO prison series “Oz” previously, but he told Ryan he was troubled early on by what he saw as inequitable treatment of the non-white characters on “Lost.”

Perrineau noted that his white castmates received more storytelling focus, and a writer Ryan spoke to separately confirmed that the writing staff was repeatedly told that Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Sawyer (Josh Holloway), and Locke (Terry O’Quinn) — four white characters — were the “hero characters.”

“It became pretty clear that I was the Black guy. Daniel [Dae Kim] was the Asian guy. And then you had Jack and Kate and Sawyer,” Perrineau told Ryan.

In one incident that precipitated his departure from the show after season two, Perrineau said he phoned Lindelof and co-showrunner Carlton Cuse to express concerns about a season two episode of “Lost” after his character Michael’s son Walt is kidnapped. According to Perrineau, an early draft of the episode had minimal focus on Michael’s reaction to the kidnapping and focused instead on Sawyer. He was concerned it furthered “the narrative that nobody cares about Black boys, even Black fathers.”

Perrineau said Cuse and Lindelof told him the episode wasn’t about his character, but he pressed to have more lines showing Michael’s concern for his son. Eventually, Perrineau said he received a revised script with flashbacks to his character’s life before the island added in.

“I felt like suddenly they were mad at me,” Perrineau said. According to Perrineau, a few weeks before the season two finale began filming, Cuse informed Perrineau that his character would not be returning to the show.

“I was fucked up about it. I was like, ‘Oh, I just got fired, I think,'” Perrineau told Ryan. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, what’s happening?'” According to Perrineau, Cuse turned the dismissal around on him, telling Perrineau, “Well, you know, you said to us, if we don’t have anything good for you, you want to go.”

Damon Lindelof


Damon Lindelof.

Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images


In an interview with Ryan, Lindelof acknowledged that while “every single actor” on “Lost” had expressed to the writing staff they felt they were being underutilized in the story, Perrineau’s specific criticism of how the writers handled the show’s characters of color was valid and something Lindelof “had deep and profound regrets about in the two decades since” the show aired.

“Harold was completely and totally right to point that out,” Lindelof told Ryan, later adding that he did feel Perrineau “was legitimately and professionally conveying concerns about his character and how significant it was that Michael and Walt — with the exception of Rose —were really the only Black characters on the show.”

When speaking about the broader allegations of a toxic workplace covered by Ryan in her book, Lindelof pointed to his inexperience leading a show and acknowledged that he’d “failed” to cultivate a safe environment on the “Lost” set.

Writers told Ryan the show was “cutthroat” and one of the most “nakedly hostile” environments they’d worked in. Owusu-Green and another writer described several instances in which show staffers and writers used openly racist language. In one instance, Ryan wrote, “The only Asian American writer was called Korean, as in, ‘Korean, take the board.'”

In an interview with Lindelof, Ryan read off a list of words people who had worked on the show used to describe the environment — cruel, brutal, destructive, racist, sexist, bullying, angry, abusive, and hostile. Lindelof responded, in part, by saying: “Would it shock you to learn or believe that, despite the fact that I completely and totally validate your word cloud, that I was oblivious, largely oblivious, to the adverse impacts that I was having on others in that writers room during the entire time that the show was happening?”

“It’s not for me to say what kind of person I am,” Lindelof told Ryan in their second conversation. “But I will say this—I would trade every person who told you that I was talented—I would rather they said I was untalented but decent, rather than a talented monster.”

Representatives for Lindelof, Perrineau, and ABC Studios didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s requests for additional comment.

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