Harold Perrineau, who was written off the show in 2008, is joined by others who claim racial stereotypes, offensive humor and demeaning actions were common on set, according to an excerpt from 'Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood'
Former stars and crew members of Lost are pulling back the curtain on the behind-the-scenes drama of the ABC series.
In an excerpt of Maureen Ryan's new book Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood published by Vanity Fair Tuesday, actors, writers and others behind the scenes claim racial pay disparities, stereotypes, offensive humor and demeaning actions on the set of the TV series. Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof acknowledged issues on set and partly blamed them on his inexperience and pervasive issues in the industry.
When plans to negotiate for equal pay as a cast fell apart, Harold Perrineau, who is Black, and an unnamed actor claimed the group was divided into different compensation tiers with the top level being held by White actors only.
“That affected relationships," said the unnamed actor, who Ryan nicknamed Sloan.
“A lot of us grew very close,” Sloan said. “The thing that kind of created a rift in the cast was money.”
A spokeswoman for Disney, who owns ABC Studios, declined to comment to PEOPLE about the show's pay disparity on Tuesday night.
Perrineau, who played Michael Dawson on the series before he was written off in 2008, also alleges that his White counterparts received more screen time during the show’s first season. “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 [who received more screen time],” he recalled, according to the book excerpt.
A writer on the hit series, which ran from 2004 to 2010, claimed they were told Locke (Terry O'Quinn), Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) — who are all White — were the “hero characters."
“It’s not that they didn’t write stories for Sayid [an Iraqi character] or Sun and Jin [Korean characters],” the insider told the author. The writer alleged they would receive feedback including, “Nobody cares about these other characters. Just give them a few scenes on another beach.”
Perrineau claimed that he brought up the issue to a producer and asked why the story was centered around the White character. According to the excerpt, he was told, “Well, this is just how audiences follow stories” because the characters were “relatable.”
In one specific instance, Perrineau took issue with the original draft of the second episode of season two because his character showed little concern about finding his kidnapped son. He made the decision to speak up about worries he could be “another person who doesn’t care about missing Black boys, even in the context of fiction.”
He alleged his phone conversation with showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse — on which he was told the episode was not about Michael — ultimately led to his character being written off the show.
Multiple sources claimed that following Perrineau’s exit, Lindelof said the performer “called me racist, so I fired his ass.”
“Everyone laughed,” writer Monica Owusu-Breen said of the incident, according to the book. “There was so much s---, and so much racist s---, 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.”
In the upcoming book, Lindelof responded to the allegation. “What can I say? Other than it breaks my heart that that was Harold’s experience,” he said, adding that he does not remember “ever” saying that remark. “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.”
“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,” he added. “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.”
He continued: “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.”
Owusu-Breen also alleged the only Asian American writer was nicknamed Korean, as in, “Korean, take the board,” while another staff member who was adopting an Asian child was told, “No grandparent wants a slanty-eyed grandchild.”
In the book excerpt, Lindelof said: “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.”
“[Hollywood tokenism is] what I saw in the business around me,” he added. “And so I was like, okay, as long as there are one or two [writers] who don’t look and think exactly like me, then, then I’m okay. 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.”
Owusu-Breen alleged that behind-the-scenes racism also made it to the screen during the death of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s character, Mr. Eko.
“Carlton said something to the effect of, ‘I want to hang him from the highest tree. God, if we could only cut his dick off and shove it down his throat,’” Owusu-Breen recalled the showrunner telling her writing partner Allison Schapker, the book excerpt states.
She added: “At which point I said, ‘You may want to temper the lynching imagery, lest you offend.’ And I was very clearly angry.”
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Another insider revealed that Eko’s death was “toned down” when it aired in the show’s third season. Lindelof said in the upcoming book that he was “shocked and appalled and surprised” by the claim.
“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 added. “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.”
Cuse told the author he wasn't present and didn't hear any of the alleged offensive remarks, but added, “I deeply regret that anyone at Lost would have to hear them. They are highly insensitive, inappropriate and offensive.”
“It breaks my heart to hear it. It’s deeply upsetting to know that there were people who had such bad experiences,” Cuse said. “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."
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