LOST, Elizabeth Mitchell, Matthew Fox, Ken Leung, Evangeline Lilly, Naveen Andrews, Jeremy Davies, 'Confirmed Dead', (Season 3, aired February 7, 2008), 2004-2010. Photo: Mario Perez / © ABC / courtesy everett collection

Damon Lindelof admits he ‘failed’ to maintain ‘safe’ environment on allegedly toxic ‘lost’ set

“Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof is addressing racism allegations over the ABC series’ six-season run.

The Emmy-winning ensemble series centered on survivors of a surreal plane crash and ran from 2004 to 2010. Josh Holloway, Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Naveen Andrews, Daniel Dae Kim, and Harold Perrineau were among the core cast members .

In an excerpt from Maureen Ryan’s upcoming book “Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood,” as published by Vanity FairLindelof has responded to claims of racial bias about the creative, with allegedly racist behind-the-scenes comments that appeared to influence storylines, including single father Michael’s (Perrineau) exit.

“My level of fundamental inexperience as a manager and boss, my role as someone who was supposed to shape a climate of creative danger and risk-taking, yet provide safety and comfort within the creative process – I failed at that endeavor” Lindelof told author Ryan in 2021. “I was like, OK, as long as there’s one or two (writers) who don’t look and don’t think exactly like me, then, then I’m fine. I found out it was even worse. For those specific individuals, forget the ethics or morality involved in 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 altered – I was a part of it, a thousand percent”.

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He added, “The way I behave and the way I treat other humans that I am responsible for and manager of is a byproduct of all the mistakes that have been made… I have greatly evolved and grown, and that I shouldn’t have paid the price and the trauma of the people I hurt in ‘Lost’”.

Various ‘Lost’ writers have shared stories of racist ‘jokes’ being shared in the writers room, including referring to an adopted Asian child as ‘slant-eyed’ and actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as someone who ‘steals’ wallets .

“Lost” Season 3 writer Monica Owusu-Breen called the production the most “blatantly hostile” work environment she has ever seen. “We were discriminated against every day,” she said. “Maybe they just didn’t like our writing, but it’s hard to tell if you’re discriminated against every day.”

“It would shock you to learn or believe that while I completely and utterly validate your word cloud” – referencing a word list author Ryan compiled to describe the “Lost” workplace, such as “cruel”, “racist,” “hostile,” and “sexist” — “that I was oblivious, largely unaware, of the negative impacts I was having on others in the writers room during the entire time the show was running? Do you feel like What if you knew it all the time and kept doing it?” Lindelof said.

Actor Perrineau expressed his disdain for being written out of the series in the season 4 finale, apparently in response to questioning his character’s story arc and complexity to refute racist stereotypes of Black fathers.

“That was the thing that was always tricky. Every time you talk about race, everyone catches fire and says, ‘I’m not a racist!’” Perrineau said. “It’s like, ‘Nope. Because I say I’m black doesn’t mean I’m calling you a racist. I’m talking to you from my point of view. I’ve been very clear that I’m not trying to unload my trauma on you, but I’m trying to talk to you about how I feel. So can we do it? Can we just have that conversation?’ (…) But suddenly I felt like they were angry with me.

Reading the final season four script, Perrineau said, “I was fucked for this. I was like, ‘Oh, I just got fired, I think.’ I was like, ‘Wait a minute, what’s going on?’ (Executive producer Carlton Cuse) said, “Well, you know, you told us, if we don’t have anything good for you, you want to go.” I was just asking for the same depth.

According to Perrineau, Cuse replied, “‘Well, you said you don’t have enough work here, so we’re letting you go.’ It was all very, ‘How dare you?’”

Lindelof responded to Perrineau’s claims, saying: “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 anything up about me.

The “Watchmen” creator added, “Every single actor expressed some degree of disappointment that they weren’t being used enough. It was kind of an integral part of 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 utterly right to point this out. It’s one of the things I had deep, deep regrets about over the next two decades. I feel like 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 truly the only black characters on the show.

Cuse said in response to his alleged conversation with Perrineau: “It breaks my heart to hear that. It is deeply shocking to know that there have been people who have had such bad experiences. I didn’t know people felt this 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.

Regarding the wage gap between cast members of color, Cuse wrote that he and Lindelof “strongly believed” that actors’ “compensation should be the same. While we didn’t support changes to how actors were compensated, ultimately those decisions were made by ABC Studios.

Meanwhile, Lindelof added of Cuse’s alleged behavior, including his encouragement of staff writers to kill another black character, Mr. Eko (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) with a lynching reference, that he couldn’t “calculate” the claims.

“I just can’t imagine Carlton would say anything like that, or some of those attributions, some of those comments that you (shared) – I’m telling you, I swear, I don’t remember those specific things,” Lindelof said. And that’s not me saying they didn’t happen. I’m just saying it’s literally baffling my brain, that they happened and I witnessed them or said them. To think they came out of my mouth or the mouths of people who I still consider friends it’s not just calculation.

He added: “I deeply regret that anyone at ‘Lost’ has to listen to them. They are highly insensitive, inappropriate and offensive.”

Lindelof concluded: “It’s not for me to say what kind of person I am. But I will say this – I would trade any person who has told you I’m talented – I’d rather have them say I’m untalented but decent, than a monster of talent.

IndieWire has reached out to representatives of ABC Studios and Bad Robot Productions for comment.