“Beef” Didn’t Need David Choe Anyway
Netflix almost had the best show of the year on its hands. Beef, a hypnotic portrait of strangers who take their self-hatred out on each other after a parking lot spat, has racked up the admiration of audiences and critics — including myself — since it came out on April 6. But less than two weeks after its release, the show’s legacy has already been tainted by a controversy surrounding one of its main cast members: David Choe, a celebrity artist who plays Isaac, a temperamental grifter on parole. He’s come under fire for his history of graphically bragging and joking about rape.
In 2014, on his podcast DVDASA, which stands for “Double Vag, Double Anal, Sensitive Artist,” Choe recounted a story about forcing his massage therapist to watch him masturbate, then hold his penis, then perform oral sex on him. His friend and cohost, the porn actor Asa Akira, interjected to say that he was “basically” admitting to rape, but he shrugged it off.
A month later, after journalist Melissa Stetten brought public attention to the incident in a post on xoJane, Choe issued a formal apology in which he claimed that he made the story up, calling it his mission as “an artist and a storyteller” to challenge his friends and listeners with “dark, tasteless” ideas. But his career continued apace. Although one of his murals was vandalized in 2017, presumably in protest of the same controversy, which prompted another public apology, Choe didn’t seem to suffer any major professional consequences. Being provocative merely became part of his brand. In a 2021 profile in the New York Times, Choe said “it was strangely comforting to be so despised” in 2014 because the external hate finally matched his own self-loathing. It didn’t seem to bother him that Disney warned its subsidiary company FX against acquiring his TV series, The Choe Show, on account of his controversial history. He funded the show himself, and after all, the company bought it anyway. In a smug but prescient quote, he declared, “If you want to come and try to cancel me, that’s OK.”
Now that he’s attached to a project as high profile as Beef, this 9-year-old controversy has become inescapable. Writers Aura Bogado and Meecham Meriweather recirculated clips of the original podcast episode on Twitter last week, causing fans to wonder why Choe had been cast and what steps Beef’s production team would take to condemn his behavior. (Twitter deleted the tweets after Choe’s foundation requested that Bogado’s and Meriweather’s tweets be removed on copyright grounds). This time, people have drawn attention to Choe’s description of his massage therapist as “half Black, half white,” arguing that his story not only normalizes rape but contributes to a long history of objectifying Black women, who experience sexual violence at disproportionately high rates.
Thus far, nobody from Beef has made any public comments. Show creator Lee Sung Jin, as well as costars and executive producers Ali Wong and Steven Yeun, have remained silent. (Wong set her Twitter account to private seemingly in light of the controversy). As far as damage control goes, it’s disappointingly evasive.