'Lost' Co-Creator Damon Lindelof Admits He 'Failed' Amid Allegations of Toxic, Racist Work Environment

'Lost' cast
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The show's co-creator Damon Lindelof admitted he 'failed.'

Damon Lindelof is admitting his failings. In the upcoming book BURN IT DOWN: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood, author Maureen Ryan speaks to many people who worked on Lost and described the show as having "dark and complicated" behind-the-scenes drama, which was, at times, "grueling and scarring" and "nakedly hostile."

In response to the accusations leveled against the series, Lindelof, who co-created the show, admitted that he "failed" during its run from 2004 to 2010.

"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 Ryan in 2021, according to an excerpt of the book, which was published by Vanity Fair.

In a follow-up conversation the next year, Lindelof told Ryan, "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."

Damon Lindelof - David Buchan/Variety/Penske Media via Getty Images

Lindelof later claimed that he was "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."

"It's not for me to say what kind of person I am," he said later. "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."

Meanwhile, Ryan notes that producer Carlton Cuse responded to the accusations via email, by writing that the claims against the show "break my heart."

"It's deeply upsetting to know that there were people who had such bad experiences," he wrote. "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 specific allegations against the show, actor Harold Perrineau, who is Black, made several. Perrineau and others claimed that the cast ended up in a series of compensation tiers with only white actors on top. Cuse said the compensation changes were made by the network, not by him.

Perrineau also alleged that his race played a role in the show's storylines.

"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," he said of the characters who were played by white actors.

In response, Lindelof noted that, by the second season, "every single actor had expressed some degree of disappointment that they weren’t being used enough."

"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," he said. "It's one of the things that I've had deep and profound regrets about in the two decades since." 

Perrineau said that he eventually brought up some of his concerns to an unnamed producer, whom he claimed responded by saying, "Well, this is just how audiences follow stories," before calling the white characters "relatable." 

When he brought concerns about a specific storyline up to Lindelof and Cuse he felt "like suddenly they were mad at me." Shortly thereafter, Perrineau found out he wouldn't be returning for the next season.

Now, Lindelof said, "I do feel that Harold was legitimately and professionally conveying concerns about his character."

After his exit, Perrineau gave an interview to a reporter discussing his issues with the storyline. In response, Perrineau claimed he was accused of playing "the race card."

"The response from ABC was like, 'Oh, we always loved Harold, but he may be just angry that he left the show,'" he recalled. "I'm not angry that I left the show. Like, that's what I think as a fan."

Perrineau claimed that the network wanted him to issue a retraction, but he believed that he "didn't say anything wrong." He believes the popularity of the series played into his treatment, speculating "People so loved the show. They couldn't hear one thing against it."

As for how Lindelof and Cuss felt about Perrineau's departure, both men say that the sudden growth spurt of Malcolm David Kelley, the actor who played Perrineau's son, was the reason behind Perrineau's exit.

"I do not believe he is in any way personally to blame for the way his role changed," Cuse wrote.

Meanwhile, multiple sources told Ryan that the co-creator said Perrineau "called me racist, so I fired his ass." Lindlehof said he did not recall "ever" making the comment, but noted, "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."

In response to Perrineau's other accusations, Lindlehof said, "What can I say? Other than it breaks my heart that that was Harold's experience," and admitting, that there was "a high degree of insensitivity towards all the issues that you mentioned as it relates to Harold."

Then there's season 3 writer Monica Owusu-Breen, who is Black. She told Ryan that it "was an impossibility" to work effectively on the series.

"There was no way to navigate that situation," she said. "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."

Owusu-Breen additionally claimed that there was "hazing" on set. "It was very much middle school and relentlessly cruel," she alleged. "And I've never heard that much racist commentary in one room in my career."

Eventually, Owusu-Breen was told she didn't "fit" on the show and was let go. "I was so happy to be fired," she said.

Lindelof said he was "shocked and appalled and surprised" by Owusu-Breen's claims.

"I have no recollection of those specific things," he 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."

As for Cuse, he wrote in his responses that he was not present for, nor did he hear, the litany of offensive comments that I brought up, and he added, "I deeply regret that anyone at Lost would have to hear them. They are highly insensitive, inappropriate, and offensive."

Melinda Hsu Taylor, a writer and producer, also claimed she was "punished" for penning a successful episode that didn't include writing credits for Lindelof and Cuse. 

Lindelof responded by calling Hsu Taylor a "great writer who executed at a high level," and by noting that he was "stricken" by her claims. Meanwhile, Cuse called Hsu Taylor "an invaluable asset" and said he did not remember punishing her by withholding future scripts.

"It's the sort of place where the voices still ring in your head, even now," Hsu Taylor said of her Lost experience. "You don't know you're in an abusive relationship until you're no longer in an abusive relationship."