LOST: Damon Lindelof Responds to Book's Toxic Workplace Allegations
LOST co-creator Damon Lindelof responded to allegations of a toxic work environment in an excerpt posted today from an upcoming new book.
Though not set to drop until next week, Maureen Ryan's Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood (available to pre-order here) is already making headlines for the chapter focusing on Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse's Lost that was published by Vanity Fair earlier today. In the excerpt, a number of allegations were leveled against the production, with individuals on both sides of the camera making claims of a "racist," "sexist," and general "hostile" & toxic work environment – and that the show's co-creators were either indifferent to what was taking place or feeding into it. Some of the alleged incidents that stand out include series star Harold Perrineau (Michael) making this observation about the series by the time the first season had gotten rolling: "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 [Matthew Fox] and Kate [Evangeline Lily] and Sawyer [Josh Holloway]."
Perrineau also took exception with the way Cuse & Lindelof handled Michael's reaction to Walt's (Malcolm David Kelley) kidnapping, believing that the lack of addressing the matter was only "furthering the narrative that nobody cares about Black boys, even Black fathers." After a phone call where the actor claims he told the co-creators he wouldn't just be "the Black guy" on the show and that he was ready to be used more, Perrineau was informed ahead of the second season finale that his character would not be back for a third. "[Cuse] said, 'Well, you said to us, if we don't have anything good for you, you want to go,'" Perrineau quotes the EP in making his claim. "'[Y]ou said you don't have enough work here, so we're letting you go.'" As for Lindeolf, the book taps several sources who say it Lindelof's response to the actor's departure was, "[He] called me racist, so I fired his ass."
In a 2001 interview with Ryan for the book (the first of two interviews), Lindelof addressed the alleged problem on the set of the cult classic series. "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." A year later, during a second interview, Lindelof addressed accusations against him regarding Perrineau's departure. "What can I say? Other than it breaks my heart that that was Harold's experience," Lindelof replied, adding that he had no recollection of "ever" saying that. "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."
Though stating that Kelley's unexpected physical growth spurt was a factor in how Michael & Walt's situation was to be addressed, Lindelof did acknowledge that there was "a high degree of insensitivity" towards the issues of Black families and stereotypes that the actor would raise. As for the issue that Perrineau raised regarding Lost mostly focusing on white actors like Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lily, and Josh Holloway, Lindelof responded that "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 Lindelof added, "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." Lindelof said he knows that Perrineau had the best interest of his character and the show at heart, adding, "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."
As for the overall rundown of allegations against him, Cuse & the show, Lindelof tells Ryan he was "shocked and appalled and surprised" by what he heard – swearing that he had "no recollection" of what was being alleged but also looking to make it clear that he wasn't accusing any of the allegations of being made up. "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."