After all these years of remaining quiet, actor Harold Perrineau is now accusing the producers of the hit 2000s drama Lost of firing him after he asked them to develop his character with “equal depth” as some of the white characters had received.
Lost was a huge hit for ABC for most of its six-year run from 2004 to 2010, and Perrineau was one of the better-known stars when the series debuted. But, over time his character appeared less and was ultimately dropped.
In the aftermath of a new book on the entertainment industry’s toxic culture that claims Lost had a toxic atmosphere for minority actors, writers, and other employees, Perrineau is speaking out to reveal his experience on the hit TV show’s set, according to Today.
Perrineau says that he liked the concept of Lost because the story seemed to be “really equitable” by giving so many characters their time in the spotlight. But soon enough, he says he realized that his character, “Michael Dawson,” was not getting much screen time.
“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,” Perrineau told Today.
The racism was so blatant, he says, that all the non-white actors were constantly placed on the winds and in the back during cast photo shoots.
Perrineau claims he took his concerns to the producers.
He said he told them, “I don’t have to be the first, I don’t have to have the most episodes — but I’d like to be in the mix. But it seems like this is now a story about Jack and Kate and Sawyer.”
He says that he was told that Jack, Kate, and Sawyer were “relatable” to audiences.
Perrineau said the final straw was a script for an episode where Michael’s son, Walt, was missing, but Michael only mentions the issue once and otherwise seemed unconcerned over his missing son. He balked over the story and said he couldn’t do it.
“I can’t be another person who doesn’t care about missing Black boys, even in the context of fiction, right? This is just furthering the narrative that nobody cares about Black boys, even Black fathers,” he said he told producers.
Perrineau claimed that he told producers he was ready to work, but wanted to be a fleshed-out character, not just “the black guy.” After the meeting, he did get a bit more focus in an episode, but after that it all went south quickly.
By the end of season two, Perrineau was told his character was not returning. But, when he asked why, producers blamed him.
“‘Well, you know,'” Perrineau said the producers told him. “‘you said to us, if we don’t have anything good for you, you want to go.'”
“I was just asking for equal depth,” Perrineau insisted. “It was all very much, ‘How dare you?'”
The book that prompted Perrineau’s claims, Maureen Ryan’s “Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood,” also claimed that writer and producer Monica Owusu-Breen felt that the series had a toxic culture that was “nakedly hostile” and “relentlessly cruel,” and even claimed blacks were “hazed” during the show.
Damon Lindelof, showrunner for Lost, said he was utterly unaware of this toxic culture.
“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,” Ryan claims Lindelof said.
"I have significantly evolved and grown, and it shouldn't have had to come at the cost and the trauma of people." Damon Lindelof admitted he "failed" in modeling a safe work environment on the hit show LOST: https://t.co/tevhVDQ4pl pic.twitter.com/KfBb01bvFa
— Decider (@decider) June 2, 2023
As to Perrineau’s complaint that he wasn’t being used enough, Lindelof said “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,” Lindelof reportedly said.
Producer Carlton Cuse also spoke out about the accusations in Ryan’s book, saying, “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,” Cuse said in a statement. “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.”
Regardless, both Lindelof and Cuse insist that Perrineau was never fired and that one of the big reasons for the limited use of Michael and Walt was because young actor Malcolm David Kelley had a major “growth spurt” during the show and could no longer be portrayed as a pre-teen kid. So, the characters stories were wrapped up.
This is not the first time that the show’s toxic culture has come under fire. J.J. Abrams, the co-creator and executive producer of the show, issued a public apology to star Evangeline Lilly in 2018 after she came out to say that she felt humiliated by the nude scene they forced her to film.
Lilly said that she was pressured to do a nude scene for the show and due to her young age felt unable to stand up for herself.