Damon Lindelof Reacts to Lost Exposé, ‘Racist, Hostile’ Workplace Allegations: ‘I Failed’ to Foster a Safe Environment

Damon Lindelof says that he “failed” to provide safety and comfort as a co-creator of Lost, in response to a new book that in part chronicles numerous allegations of a “racist,” “sexist,” “hostile” and overall toxic workplace.

In an excerpt from a chapter of Maureen Ryan’s Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood (preorder on Amazon), cast members and writers from the iconic supernatural drama relay anecdotes that allege Lindelof and co-creator Carlton Cuse were indifferent, or worse, to complaints about storytelling that backburnered actors of color.

Among the incidents cited in the Vanity Fair excerpt, original cast member Harold Perrineau, who played Michael, says that as the first season of Lost unfolded, “It became pretty clear that I was the Black guy. Daniel [Dae Kim, who played Jin] was the Asian guy. And then you had Jack and Kate and Sawyer,” played by Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lily and Josh Holloway.

Perrineau says that early in Season 2, when given an early script for the episode in which Walt is kidnapped by the Others, he was shocked by how little Michael mentioned his MIA son. “I don’t think I can do that,” he says was his reaction. “This is just furthering the narrative that nobody cares about Black boys, even Black fathers.”

Perrineau says he took that concern to Lindelof and Cuse via a telephone call, saying, “If you’re going to use me, let’s work. I’m here to work. I’m good at my job and I’ll do anything you want. Except be ‘the Black guy’ on your show.”

Months later, ahead of filming the Season 2 finale, Perrineau says that Cuse informed him that Michael would not be back for Season 3.

“[Cuse] said, ‘Well, you said to us, if we don’t have anything good for you, you want to go,’” Perrineau quotes the EP as explaining. “'[Y]ou said you don’t have enough work here, so we’re letting you go.’” Lindelof, meanwhile, is quoted in the book by multiple sources as saying of Perrineau’s exit, “[He] called me racist, so I fired his ass.”

In an explosive 2008 exit interview with TV Guide, Perrineau raised ABC’s hackles by saying, “if I’m being really candid, there are all these questions about how they respond to Black people on the show. Sayid gets to meet Nadia again, and Desmond and Penny hook up again, but a little Black boy and his father hooking up, that wasn’t interesting?”

There’s also an allegation within the Burn It Down chapter about Lost that when Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (aka Mr. Eko) asked off of the series, Cuse imagined aloud a grotesque death scene loaded with lynching imagery.

Lindelof, in one of two interviews with Burn It Down author Ryan, reacted to the assorted allegations — which also include claims of sexist behavior aimed at female writers — by saying,  “My level of fundamental inexperience as a manager and a boss, my role as someone who was supposed to model a climate of creative danger and risk-taking but provide safety and comfort inside of the creative process — I failed in that endeavor.”

“[T]alking about the human effect of being the only woman or the only person of color and how you are treated and othered — I was a part of that, a thousand percent,” he added.

Regarding Perrineau’s specific complaints, Lindelof said that a growth spurt for the child actor who played Walt dictated that character’s disappearance, and effectively ended Michael’s story as well. That said, Lindelof cops to “a high degree of insensitivity towards all the issues that you mentioned as it relates to Harold.”

Complaints about screen time (or lack of) are “part and parcel for an ensemble show,” Lindelof contends, “but obviously there was a disproportionate amount of focus on Jack and Kate and Locke and Sawyer — the white characters. Harold was completely and totally right to point that out. It’s one of the things that I’ve had deep and profound regrets about in the two decades since.”

Cuse, meanwhile, claims he was not present for nor heard any of the awful comments attributed to him, but said (via an email to Ryan), “I deeply regret that anyone at Lost would have to hear them. They are highly insensitive, inappropriate, and offensive.” He maintains that race had “nothing to do” with Michael’s lack of storyline, adding: “I do not believe [Harold] is in any way personally to blame for the way his role changed.”

And as for his allegedly considered lynching of Mr. Eko (who ultimately was beaten to death by the Smoke Monster), Cuse says, “I never, ever made that statement… and this exchange never happened. To further add to this lie and suggest that someone was fired as a result of a statement that I never made is completely false.”

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