“Lost” showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse face several allegations of racism, toxicity and more that allegedly occurred during the making of the ABC hit series in Maureen Ryan’s new book, “Burn It Down,” an excerpt of which is published on the stock exchange’s Vanity website. In the snippet, Lindelof admits that he “failed” in regards to providing “safety and comfort” in the show’s writers’ room.
Several writers and actors spoke to Ryan about the allegedly toxic work environment on “Lost,” which ran for six seasons on ABC from 2004-2010. Harold Perrineau, who played Michael Dawson in the first two seasons of “Lost,” spoke frankly about his white co-stars getting the show’s major storylines. As he put it, “It became pretty obvious that I was the black guy. Daniel [Dae Kim] was the Asian man. And then you had Jack and Kate and Sawyer.”
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A writer on the show said the “Lost” writing staff was told repeatedly that white characters Locke (Terry O’Quinn), Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) are the “hero characters” goods. and that “nobody cares about these other characters. Just give them a few scenes on another beach.”
Perrineau said he once expressed concerns to a “Lost” producer about the show’s white cast members being given priority over cast members of color, whether on screen or during photo shoots. He said he told the producer, “I don’t need to be first, I don’t need to have the most episodes, but I’d like to be in the mix.” But it looks like this is now a story about Jack and Kate and Sawyer.”
According to Perrineau, the producer told him that “this is exactly how audiences follow stories.” The producer allegedly added that Locke, Jack, Kate and Sawyer were “recognizable”.
Perrineau said he later went to Cuse to express his concerns about a script where his character, Michael, expressed concerns about his missing child only once during the episode.
“I can’t be another person who doesn’t care about missing black guys, even in the context of fiction, right?” said Perrineau. “This just furthers the narrative that no one cares about black boys, not even black dads.”
After raising his concerns and just a few weeks before filming the “Lost” season 2 finale, Perrineau said Cuse announced that Michael would not be returning to the show.
“I was devastated. I was like, ‘Oh, I just got fired, I think,'” says Perrineau. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, what’s happening?’ [Cuse] said, “Well, you know, you said to us, if we don’t have anything good for you, you want to go.” I just asked for equal depth.”
Several “Lost” writers told Ryan that Cuse and Lindelof “tolerated or even encouraged the overall atmosphere” behind the scenes, which reportedly included frequent racist and toxic remarks.
Monica Owusu-Breen, a “Lost” season 3 writer, and other writers said that the only Asian-American writer on staff was routinely referred to as “Korean” rather than by an actual name. In another case, a writer who adopted an Asian child was reportedly told by another writer that “no grandparent wants a slant-eyed grandchild.” Lindelof also reportedly addressed Perrineau’s departure in front of writers, saying he “called me racist, so I fired him.”
“Everyone laughed [when Lindelof said that]Owusu-Breen said. “There was so much shit, and so much racist shit, and then there was laughter. It was ugly. I was like, ‘I don’t know if they’re taking this as a joke or if they mean it.’ But it wasn’t funny. To say that was terrible.”
“All I wanted to do was write some really cool episodes of a cool show. That was impossible for that staff,” Owusu-Breen previously told Ryan. “There was no way to navigate that situation. Part of it was that they really didn’t like their coloring characters. If you have to go home and cry for an hour before you can see your kids because you need to release all the stress you’ve been holding onto, you’re not going to write anything good after that.
Owusu-Breen also remembered writing the episode where Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Mr. Eko was killed.
“Carlton said something along the lines of, “I want to hang him from the tallest tree. God, if only we could cut his cock off and shove him down his throat,” Owusu-Breen said. “At that point I said, ‘Maybe you want to tone down the lynching images or you’ll offend.’ And I was very obviously angry.”
“Lost” writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach told Ryan that he quit after season 2 because of the show’s toxic work environment. He described the writers’ room as “a predatory ecosystem with its own carnivorous megafauna.”
Writer-producer Melinda Hsu Taylor added, “Damon once said, ‘I don’t trust any writer who isn’t miserable, because that tells me you don’t care.'” She started leaving eyeliner in her desk drawer because “You don’t feel like going to the bathroom to redo your eyeliner. If you’re crying at work, you don’t want people to see that you’ve been crying.”
Lindelof responded to the many allegations in two separate interviews with Ryan conducted for the book.
“My level of fundamental inexperience as a manager and boss, my role as someone who was supposed to model a climate of creative danger and risk-taking, but provided security and comfort within the creative process — I failed in that endeavor,” Lindelof said .
“[Hollywood tokenism is] what I saw in the business around me,” he continued. “And so I thought, okay, if it’s just one or two [writers] who don’t look and think exactly like me, then I’m okay. I found out that was even worse. For those particular individuals, forget about the ethics or the morality around that decision, just talk about the human effect of being the only woman or the only person of color and how you’re treated and different – I was a part of that one thousand percent .”
Lindelof said he couldn’t remember “ever” saying the “fire his ass” comment about Perrineau, though he added, “What can I say? Except it breaks my heart that that was Harold’s experience. And I’ll just admit that the events you’re describing happened 17 years ago, and I don’t know why anyone would make that up about me.
Elaborating on Perrineau’s concerns that the show was prioritizing the white characters, Lindelof said, “Each actor had expressed some degree of disappointment that they weren’t being used enough… That was an essential part of an ensemble show, but there was clearly a disproportionate amount of attention to Jack and Kate and Locke and Sawyer – the white characters. Harold was absolutely right to point that out. It’s one of the things I’ve deeply and profoundly regretted in the two decades since. feeling that Harold was legitimately and professionally expressing his concerns about his character and how important it was that Michael and Walt – with the exception of Rose – were really the only black characters on the show.
Lindelof said he was “shocked and shocked and surprised” by the accusations made by the show’s writers.
“I just can’t imagine Carlton would have said something like that, or some of those attributions, some of those comments you [shared] – I’m telling you, I swear, I can’t remember those specific things,’ Lindelof said. “And that’s not me saying they didn’t happen. I’m just saying it literally boggles my brain – that they happened and I witnessed them or said them. Thinking they came from my mouth or the mouths of
people I still consider friends is just not computer work.”
Cuse issued his own statement regarding the many offensive comments allegedly made: “I deeply regret that anyone at ‘Lost’ should have to hear them. They are highly insensitive, inappropriate and offensive.”
“It breaks my heart to hear it. It is very disturbing to know that there were people who had such bad experiences,” Cuse also said. “I didn’t know people felt that way. No one has ever complained to me, nor am I aware of anyone complaining to ABC Studios. I wish I had known. I would have done what I could to make changes.”
Read the full excerpt from Ryan’s “Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood” on the Vanity Fairy website. The book is available for pre-order now and will be released on June 6.
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