Damon Lindelof Admits He ‘Failed’ at Maintaining ‘Safe’ Environment on Allegedly Toxic ‘Lost’ Set

“Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof is addressing allegations of racism during the six seasons the ABC series ran.

The Emmy-winning ensemble series centered on the 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 Fair, Lindelof responded to claims of racial bias on the creative, with allegedly racist remarks behind the scenes that seemed to affect plotlines, including the exit of single father Michael (Perrineau).

“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,” Lindelof told author Ryan in 2021. “I was like, OK, as long as there are one or two [writers] who don’t look and think exactly like me, then, then I’m OK. 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.”

He added, “The way that I conduct myself and the way that I treat other humans who I am responsible for and a manager of is a by-product of all the mistakes that were made.…I have significantly evolved and grown, and it shouldn’t have had to come at the cost and the trauma of people that I hurt on ‘Lost.’”

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

Monica Owusu-Breen, a writer on the third season of “Lost,” called production the most “nakedly hostile” working environment she ever experienced. “We were discriminated against on the daily,” she said. “Maybe they just didn’t like our writing, but it’s hard to tell if you’re discriminated against on the daily.”

“Would it shock you to learn or believe that, despite the fact that I completely and totally validate your word cloud” — referencing a list of words author Ryan compiled to describe the “Lost” workplace, like “cruel,” “racist,” “hostile,” and “sexist” — “that I was oblivious, largely oblivious, to the adverse impacts that I was having on others in that writers room during the entire time that the show was happening? Do you feel like I knew the whole time and just kept doing it?” Lindelof said.

Actor Perrineau voiced his disdain at being written off the series in the Season 4 finale, seemingly in response to questioning the story arc and complexity of his character to refute racist stereotypes of 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 said. “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?’ […] But I felt like suddenly they were mad at me.”

Reading the Season 4 finale script, Perrineau said, “I was fucked up about it. I was like, ‘Oh, I just got fired, I think.’ I was like, ‘Wait a minute, what’s happening?’ [Executive producer Carlton Cuse] said, ‘Well, you know, you said to us, if we don’t have anything good for you, you want to go.’ I was just asking for equal 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 much, ‘How dare you?’”

Lindelof responded to Perrineau’s claims, saying, “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.”

The “Watchmen” creator added, “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.”

Cuse said in response to his alleged conversation with Perrineau, “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.”

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

Meanwhile, Lindelof added of Cuse’s alleged behavior, including encouraging staff writers to kill off another Black character Mr. Eko (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) with a reference to lynching, that he could not “compute” the claims.

“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,” Lindelof said. “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.”

He added, “I deeply regret that anyone at ‘Lost’ would have to hear 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 every person who told you that I was talented — I would rather they said I was untalented but decent, rather than a talented monster.”

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

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