The popular ABC series Lost has come under fire after several allegations of racism and a toxic work environment were brought to light. These damning revelations were part of an excerpt from Maureen Ryan’s new book, Burn It Down, published on Vanity Fair’s website. Showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse face unsettling accusations, with Lindelof admitting to failing to provide “safety and comfort” in the show’s writers’ room.
The series, which aired from 2004 to 2010, was a hit, but behind the scenes, things were far from ideal. Harold Perrineau, who played Michael Dawson in the first two seasons, spoke bluntly about his white co-stars dominating the show’s major storylines. He noted, “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.”
The focus on the white characters was allegedly so pronounced that the writing staff was told to focus on them as they were the “hero characters.” In addition, Perrineau flagged his concerns to a Lost producer about the show’s white cast members being prioritised over the actors of colour, both on screen and during photo shoots.
Perrineau’s concerns extended to the portrayal of his character, Michael. He voiced concerns about a script in which Michael showed little concern for his missing child. Not long after raising these issues, Perrineau was informed that his character would not be returning to the show.
But it wasn’t just the actors who faced a difficult environment. Several Los” writers accused Cuse and Lindelof of tolerating and even encouraging a toxic atmosphere, complete with frequent racist remarks. Monica Owusu-Breen, a writer for the show’s third season, revealed that the only Asian American writer on staff was routinely referred to as “Korean” instead of by his real name.
The toxic environment allegedly extended to discussions about the show’s characters. Owusu-Breen recalled a disturbing incident in which Cuse expressed a desire to hang a character from a tree, using racially insensitive language.
Other writers echoed these sentiments. Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a Lost writer, quit after Season 2 due to the show’s toxic work environment, which he described as “a predatory ecosystem with its own carnivorous megafauna.”
Responding to the allegations, Lindelof admitted his inexperience as a manager and boss and expressed regret for his part in the toxic environment. He also acknowledged that the show did prioritise its white characters disproportionately, expressing regret over this.
Cuse also expressed regret, stating, “It breaks my heart to hear it. It’s deeply upsetting to know that there were people who had such bad experiences.”
These revelations paint a grim picture of what was happening behind the scenes of one of the most popular shows of its time.
Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood is available on Amazon Kindle and physical hardcover or wherever you buy your books.