Harold Perrineau Reveals He Was Fired From ‘Lost,’ Damon Lindelof Responds
ABC‘s Lost was a massive hit in the early 2000s, ushering in a change in the landscape of network television. Yet, the behind-the-scenes was filled with drama, with several former writers and stars now speaking out about the alleged “toxic” work environment.
The claims come from Maureen Ryan‘s new book Burn It Down, Power, Complicity and A Call For Change in Hollywood (out June 6), an excerpt from which was published in Vanity Fair. In the section, Ryan speaks with many of the show’s former writers and actors, including Harold Perrineau, who played Michael Dawson on the Emmy-winning series.
Perrineau talked about how he was uncomfortable with an episode in Season 2 where Michael didn’t seem to care about the whereabouts of his son Walt (Malcolm David Kelley) after he was kidnapped and how the episode instead focused on Josh Holloway‘s Sawyer.
“I can’t be another person who doesn’t care about missing Black boys, even in the context of fiction, right?” Perrineau said. “This is just furthering the narrative that nobody cares about Black boys, even Black fathers.”
“That was the thing that was always tricky. Any time you mention race, everybody gets — their hair gets on fire, and they’re like, ‘I’m not racist!’ ” Perrineau explained. “It’s like, ‘Nope. Because I say that I’m Black doesn’t mean I’m calling you a racist. I am talking to you from my perspective. I’m being really clear that I’m not trying to put my trauma on you, but I am trying to talk to you about what I feel. So can we just do that? Can we just have that conversation?’”
Perrineau was later let go from the show, which he saw as retaliation for speaking out. Two separate sources told Ryan that following the actor’s firing, Lindelof said during a writers’ room session, “He called me racist, so I fired his ass.”
“Everyone laughed,” said writer Monica Owusu-Breen, who described how the writers’ room was rife with bullying and inappropriate comments about race. “There was so much s**t, and so much racist s**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.”
“All I wanted to do was write some really cool episodes of a cool show. That was an impossibility on that staff,” said Owusu-Breen, who was also fired from the staff. “There was no way to navigate that situation. Part of it was 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 excise all the stress you’ve been holding in, you’re not going to write anything good after that.”
Some of the comments Owusu-Breen heard while working on the show, which were corroborated by another source, included a staff member saying, “No grandparent wants a slanty-eyed grandchild” after another staff member mentioned adopting an Asian child.
When actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s (who played Mr. Eko) picture was on the writers’ room table, someone was told to remove their nearby wallet “before he steals it.”
Owusu-Breen also claimed the only Asian American writer on the staff was called “Korean,” as in, “Korean, take the board.”
Responding to the allegations of bullying and racism, Lindelof told Ryan, “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.”
As for his alleged comments about Perrineau, Lindelof said, “What can I say? Other than it breaks my heart that that was Harold’s experience,” adding that he did not recall “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.”
Cuse, who responded to Ryan’s questions through written answers via a PR rep, said of the alleged offensive comments, “I deeply regret that anyone at Lost would have to hear them. They are highly insensitive, inappropriate, and offensive.”
He also denied making a comment to Owusu-Breen about wanting to kill off the character of Mr. Eko by hanging him from a tree, which Owusu-Breen said had lynching connotations.
“I never, ever made that statement above, and this exchange never happened,” Cuse said. “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,” adding that the implication is “completely outrageous.”