Last week TV Guide posted an interview with Harold Perrineau, the actor who plays Michael in the hit ABC series Lost. Among the things discussed in the interview were Perrineau’s thoughts on how black people are portrayed on the show. If you haven’t seen the Lost season finale, read no further!
Perrineau’s character Michael met his end during this season’s finale of Lost after a room-sized pile of explosives blew up, destroying the freighter. While we did see a number of freighties aboard a life raft after the explosion, Michael didn’t appear to be one of them and given his proximity to the explosives just prior to the explosion, I don’t think we’d be off to assume that he’s dead. Then again, in Lost, being dead doesn’t always mean gone from the show. For example, Jack’s dad’s been dead since the pilot and he shows up every now and then.
Based on what Perrineau told TV Guide in a recent interview, he thinks the his character’s death caters to a certain stereotype about black people. When asked if he was disappointed that his character Michael and Michael’s son Walt didn’t reconnect before he died, Perrineau said:
“Listen, if I'm being really candid, there are all these questions about how they respond to black people on the show. Sayid gets to meet Nadia again, and Desmond and Penny hook up again, but a little black boy and his father hooking up, that wasn't interesting? Instead, Walt just winds up being another fatherless child. It plays into a really big, weird stereotype and, being a black person myself, that wasn't so interesting.”
Lost exec-producer Carlton Cuse responded, "We pride ourselves on having a very racially diverse cast. It's painful when any actor's storyline ends on the show. Harold is a fantastic actor whose presence added enormously to Lost."
While Cuse’s response seems extremely scripted, I tend to agree with him. For one thing, Perrineau is a fantastic actor and plenty of us are going to miss him on the show. He was barely back from his extended absence on the series and now it looks like he’s gone forever. That said, I doubt the decision to kill off Michael had anything to do with an intentional play to cater to a stereotype about black people. Then again, Perrineau never says it’s intentional – whether it was implied or not, you be the judge.
Perrineau clarified his remarks in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, saying "My feelings about the social implications are my feelings. My feelings don’t determine what the storyline is." When asked if he thought there was something fundamentally problematic with the plot, he responded, "It’s just an observation. Michael’s a black character and I’m a black person, so I have feelings based on it. I can’t really separate those two things — my race and my country and all that stuff. How it plays out in the story, I don’t know, because I don’t know how the rest of the story is going to play out. I accept that this is what [the producers] need to happen for something else to happen later."
If we wanted to get technical though, looking past the skin color, the relationships between many of the Lost characters and their kids or parents have always been a bit messy. Ok, “a bit” is an understatement. To name a few seriously screwed up parent/child relationships on the show: Jack and his dad, Locke and his dad, Kate and her parents, Claire and her dad (which also happens to be Jack’s dad), Sawyer and his illegitimate child, etc. etc. When you look at some of those relationships, the Michael/Walt story seems relatively positive by comparison. I do think it’s sad that Michael and Walt never got their happy ending but at the same time, this can be said for every other character who died on the series thus far. The way I see it, the fact that Michael and Walt happen to be black is less relevant than the similarities one could draw between those two characters and ever other parent/child relationship in the series with an unresolved story.
How do you see it? Does the permanent separation of Michael and Walt cater to a racial stereotype or do you think examining their story from a racial point of view would be reading too much into it?