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'Lost' Showrunner 'Appalled' By Accusations Of Racist Work Environment By Cast And Writers

Damon Lindelof, co-showrunner of the hit ABC series, admitted he 'failed' while responding to allegations, including from castmember Harold Perrineau.

Damon Lindelof; cast of 'Lost'
Phillip Faraone/WireImage/Getty Images; Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Yesterday, Vanity Fair published an excerpt from Maureen Ryan's upcoming book Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood that shed light on the toxic and racist work environment faced by writers and actors on ABC's hit series Lost.

The piece titled "Lost Illusions: The Untold Story of the Hit Show's Poisonous Culture" pinpointed various racist incidents that occurred in the writers room as well as appalling conversations between cast members and showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse that ultimately led to premature exits from the show that spanned from 2004-2010.

Series' actor Harold Perrineau detailed several instances that ultimately resulted in his departure.

Perrineau revealed he was initially excited to be a part of Lost because of the promise it showed for actors of color, noting it was one of the only shows at that time striving for equity and the promise of a diverse cast "was a bigger try than I had ever seen on broadcast TV."

But it didn't take long before Perrineau—who was cast as Michael Dawson—realized it was too good to be true.

“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.”

He revealed he brought his concern to a producer.

“I don’t have to be the first, I don’t have to have the most episodes—but I’d like to be in the mix. But it seems like this is now a story about Jack and Kate and Sawyer.”

According to the actor, he was told the White characters were just more "relatable."

“This is just how audiences follow stories.”

After voicing more concerns over the lack of storylines, as well as degrading stereoptypical ones, Cuse announced Perrineau's character would not be returning.

Many writers also shared their harrowing experiences, many noting Lindelof and Cuse “tolerated or even encouraged the overall atmosphere."

Season 3 writer Monica Owusu-Breen exposed multiple exchanges that transpired in the writers room, revealing the only Asian-American writer was referred to as "the Korean" instead of by name and Lindelof laughed off Perrineau's termination by scoffing, “[he] called me racist, so I fired his a**.”

Owusu-Breen explained:

“Everyone laughed [when Lindelof said that]."
“There was so much sh*t, and so much racist sh*t, and then laughter. It was ugly."
"I was like, ‘I don’t know if they’re perceiving this as a joke or if they mean it.’ But it wasn’t funny. Saying that was horrible.”

The list goes on and on.

Lindelof did respond to some of the accusations in Vanity Fair in interviews with Ryan which are included in her book.

“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.”
“[Hollywood tokenism is] what I saw in the business around me."
"And so I was like, okay, as long as there are one or two [writers] who don’t look and think exactly like me, then, then I’m okay. I came to learn that was even worse."
"For those specific individuals, forget about the ethics or the morality involved around that decision, but just talking 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.”

While Lindelof shared he didn't remember the comments made about Perrineau, he did note:

“What can I say? Other than it breaks my heart that that was Harold’s experience. 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.”

And though he was "shocked" at the allegations, Lindelof acknowledged Perrineau was right to voice his dismay.

Lindelof claimed he had "deep and profound regrets" about it.

“Every single actor had expressed some degree of disappointment that they weren’t being used enough…That was kind of part and parcel for an ensemble show, 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."
"I do feel that Harold 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.”

People on social media were disappointed to learn of the allegations.

And many agreed with Perrineau's view of representation on the show.

Several also expressed their disappointment in Lindelof's response.

Replying to the allegations against Cuse, Lindelof stated:

“I just can’t imagine that Carlton would’ve said something like that, or some of those attributions, some of those comments that you [shared] — I’m telling you, I swear, I have no recollection of those specific things.”
“And that’s not me saying that they didn’t happen. I’m just saying that it’s literally baffling my brain — that they did happen and that I bore witness to them or that I said them. To think that they came out of my mouth or the mouths of people that I still consider friends is just not computing.”

Cuse himself issued a statement that read:

“I deeply regret that anyone at ‘Lost’ would have to hear them. They are highly insensitive, inappropriate and offensive.”
“It breaks my heart to hear it. It’s deeply upsetting to know that there were people who had such bad experiences.”
“I did not know people were feeling that way. No one ever complained to me, nor am I aware that anybody complained to ABC Studios."
"I wish I had known. I would have done what I could to make changes.”

Burn It Down will be available for purchase on June 6.