‘Lost’ Showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse Face Multiple Accusations of Racism, Toxicity and More Allegedly Happening While Making the Hit ABC Series in Maureen Ryan’s New Book, ‘Burn It Down’ , an excerpt of which was posted on Vanity Fair’s website. In the excerpt, Lindelof admits he “failed” when it came to providing “safety and comfort” in the show’s writers’ room.
Several writers and actors spoke to Ryan about the alleged toxic work environment on “Lost,” which ran for six seasons on ABC from 2004 to 2010. Harold Perrineau, who starred as Michael Dawson in the first two seasons of “Lost,” spoke bluntly about its white co-stars getting the show’s main storylines. As he said, “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.
A writer on the show said the “Lost” writing staff had been told several times that white characters Locke (Terry O’Quinn), Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) were the “hero characters”. and that “no one cares about these other characters. Just give them some scenes on another beach.
Perrineau said he once reported his concerns to a “Lost” producer about the show’s white cast members taking 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 the first, I don’t need to have the most episodes – but I would love to be in the mix. But it seems like this now be a story about Jack and Kate and Sawyer.
According to Perrineau, the producer told him that “that’s how audiences follow stories.” The producer reportedly added that Locke, Jack, Kate and Sawyer were “relatable”.
Perrineau said he then went to Cuse to express his concerns about a storyline in which his character, Michael, only expressed concern once about his missing child during the episode.
“I can’t be another person who doesn’t care about the disappearance of black boys, even in the context of fiction, can I?” said Perrineau. “It only reinforces the narrative that no one cares about black boys, even black fathers.”
After reporting his concerns and just weeks before filming for the “Lost” season 2 finale, Perrineau said Cuse announced that Michael would not be returning to the show.
“I was screwed about it. I was like, ‘Oh, I just got fired, I think,’” Perrineau said. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, what’s going on?’ [Cuse] said, ‘Well, you know, you told us, if we don’t have anything good for you, you want to leave.’ I was just asking for equal depth.
Several “Lost” writers told Ryan that Cuse and Lindelof “tolerate or even encourage the general atmosphere” backstage, which allegedly included frequent racist and toxic remarks.
Monica Owusu-Breen, a writer for Season 3 of “Lost,” and other writers said the staff’s only Asian-American writer was regularly referred to as “Korean” instead of a real 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 referred to Perrineau’s exit in front of writers, saying he “called me a racist, so I kicked his ass out.”
“Everyone laughed [when Lindelof said that]said Owusu-Breen. “There was so much bullshit, and so much racist bullshit, and then laughter. It was ugly. I was like, ‘I don’t know if they take this as a joke or if they really mean it.’ But it wasn’t funny. To say that was horrible.
“All I wanted to do was write really cool episodes of a cool show. It was an impossibility for this staff,” Owusu-Breen told Ryan earlier. “There was no way to navigate that situation. Part of it was that they really didn’t like their characters of color. When you have to go home and cry for an hour before you can see your kids because you have to release all the stress that you held back, you won’t write anything good after that.
Owusu-Breen also remembers writing the episode in which Mr. Eko of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje was killed.
“Carlton said something like, ‘I want to hang him from the tallest tree. God, if only we could cut his dick off and shove his throat in,’ Owusu-Breen said. , I said, ‘You might want to tone down the lynching images, lest you offend. And I was very clearly angry.
“Lost” writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach told Ryan he quit after Season 2 due to 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.'” don’t want to have to go to the bathroom to reapply your eyeliner. If you cry at work, you don’t want people to see you cried.
Lindelof responded to the numerous accusations in two separate interviews with Ryan conducted for the book.
“My basic level of inexperience as a manager and boss, my role as someone who is expected to model a climate of creative danger and risk-taking but provide security and comfort within the creative process – I failed in this business,” Lindelof said.
“[Hollywood tokenism is] what I saw in the business around me,” he continued. “And so I was like, okay, as long as there’s one or two [writers] who don’t look like me and don’t think exactly like me, so, so I’m fine. I learned it was even worse. For those specific individuals, forget about the ethics or morality involved in that decision, but just talk about the human effect of being the only woman or the only person of color and how you are treated and altered – I was one of them, one thousand percent.
Lindelof said he did not recall “ever” saying the “fire his ass” comment about Perrineau, although he added, “What can I say? Other than that it breaks my heart that this is Harold’s experience. And I’m just going to admit that the events you describe happened 17 years ago, and I don’t know why anyone would make that up about me.
Expanding on Perrineau’s concerns about the show prioritizing its white characters, Lindelof said, “Every actor had expressed some disappointment at not being used enough…It was sort of an integral part of a show of together, but obviously there was a disproportionate 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 I’ve had deep, deep regrets for over the next two decades. I think Harold was legitimately and professionally conveying concerns about his character and how important it was that Michael and Walt – with the exception of Rose – were truly the only black characters on the show.
Lindelof said he was “shocked, appalled and surprised” by the claims made by the show’s writers.
“I just can’t imagine Carlton would have said anything like that, or some of those attributions, some of those comments that you [shared] “I tell you, I swear, I have no recollection of those specific things,” Lindelof said. “And it’s not me saying they didn’t happen. I’m just saying that it literally baffles me – that they happened and I witnessed them or said them. To think that they came out of my mouth or the mouths of people I still consider friends is just not IT.
Cuse released his own statement regarding the many offensive comments allegedly made: “I deeply regret that anyone at ‘Lost’ has to hear them. They are very 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,” Cuse also said. “I didn’t know people felt that way. No one ever complained to me, and I’m not aware of anyone complaining to ABC Studios. I wish I knew. 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 now available for pre-order and will be released on June 6.
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