Beef premiered on Netflix on April 6 to near-universal acclaim (98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), with critics and viewers alike raving about the dark comedy series’ bold yet nuanced tales of two strangers embroiled in an escalating blood feud and the magnetic performances of stars Steven Yeun and Ali Wong.
But less than two weeks later, the show is losing some of its luster thanks to a surfaced controversy involving costar David Choe, and the lack of response from the companies and creative team behind the A24-produced series.
In 2014, Choe, a visual artist then best known as the muralist who painted Facebook’s headquarters in exchange for stock (which reportedly earned him $200 million), co-hosted a podcast with adult film actress Asa Akira. In one episode, he says he once forced a masseuse to perform oral sex on him. At one point, he calls himself a “successful rapist,” but at another, he says, “I just want to make it clear that I admit that’s rape behavior, but I’m not a rapist.”
The anecdote was picked up first by writer Melissa Stetten on the now-defunct website XOJane and gained more traction a BuzzFeed write down. Soon after, Choe claimed his story about the masseuse was art. “I’m sorry if anyone believed the stories were facts,” he wrote. “There were not!” Controversy resurfaced in 2017 after Choe was commissioned to do a mural on The Bowery in midtown Manhattan. Other artists gathered to protest: “Our goal is to provoke widespread rejection of the continued normalization of rape culture by making the subject visible,” organizer Jasmine Wahi said. at the time.
Choe then issued a more thorough apology on his Instagram account: “How do you apologize for a lifetime of doing wrong? During the past three years of recovery and rehabilitation, I have tried to answer that question through action and understanding.” He wrote. “On a 2014 episode of DVDASA, I told a story, simply for shock value, that made it seem like I had sexually assaulted a woman. Though I said those words, I did not commit those deeds. It didn’t happen. I have ZERO history of sexual assault. I am deeply sorry for any pain I have caused anyone by my previous words. Non-consensual sex is rape and it is never funny or appropriate to joke about. I was a sick person at the height of my mental illness and have spent the past 3 years in mental institutions healing myself and dedicating my life to helping and healing others through love and action. I do not believe in the things I have said, although I take full responsibility for saying them… I am truly sorry for the negative words and dark messages I have sent out into the world.
Since then, Choe has slowly moved closer to the pop culture mainstream – in 2021 he was profiled The New York Times on the eve of his FX and Hulu limited interview series The Choe Show, where he admitted to being a “recovering liar” and again addressed his infamous 2014 podcast story. “At that point in my life I was done living and chasing a bottom. I wanted out. I never raped anyone,” he said, explaining that he told the story out of a “morbid curiosity to feel an external reaction to the internal shame I felt.”
But the rhapsodic reception Beef — the show, at least during its first week after release, was already gaining early Emmy buzz — introduced Choe to a new and widespread audience. In the series, Choe plays a character not unlike his real, defiantly dirty personality (which, until at least a decade ago, was characterized in part by a fixation on sexually violent fantasies and language) – as Isaac, the ex-con cousin of Yeun’s protagonist. Isaac is a rough loose cannon who represents the greatest threat of actual danger among the ensemble. Choe also contributed artwork for the title cards leading up to each episode, and his friendships with Yeun and Wong, who are also executive producers of Beefare well documented.
Amid rave press mentions and critical acclaim for BeefAura Bogado, a senior reporter at the Center for Investigative Reporting, tweeted on April 12, “David Choe, as in the man who detailed how he raped a woman? And then came back to say it was just a misunderstood version of his reality? and included screenshots from the 2014 BuzzFeed article summarizing his podcast story. Her tweets and clips from the podcast quickly went viral and continued to gain popularity throughout the weekend, with stunned viewers posting that they regret watching already. Beef or declare their intent to boycott it in protest of Choe’s involvement.
Social media users have also called out Beef creator Lee Sung Jin, Yeun, Wong, Netflix and A24 for their supposed knowledge of the 2014 incident and their decision to hire Choe anyway. At the time of writing, none of the parties has commented or responded directly to the situation The Hollywood Reporterrequests for comment.
On Sunday, Choe seemed to respond to the controversy when Belgado and cultural strategist Meecham Whitson Meriweather both tweeted that their posts embedding the podcast clip were removed in response to a DMCA copyright claim. Both contain screenshots of what appears to be an email from Twitter Support with the original text of the complaint:
“Several Twitter users – @MediumSizeMeech and @aurabogado have re-uploaded a clip from Episode 106 “Erection Quest” of our DVDASA live podcast and video series originally published March 10, 2014 without our permission,” reads the report, which was signed. with “Sincerely, David Choe, The David Young Choe Foundation.”
Without a communications team, Twitter wouldn’t be available for confirmation, but the Lumen database, a research project at Harvard University that collects takedown messages from the Internet, has files from the David Young Choe Foundation who filed a DMCA complaint with Google on April 13 requesting that the episode be removed from Google Drive and YouTube:
“On behalf of the David Young Choe Foundation (also known as the Meleka Foundation) and Igloo Hong, Inc. the owner of all original DVDASA content, I would like to provide the required information to report any copyright infringing media stored on your platform. delete,” the request stated. “The original media content of our live podcast and video series organization, DVDASA (2013-present), produced by, owned and operated by artist and artist, David Choe, has been illegally downloaded and has been uploaded and shared publicly on Google Drive… . Original material sources come from our DVDASA YouTube account and website, which have since been made private to prevent more of these illegal re-uploads.”
To date, it is the only action taken since the controversy resurfaced.
J. Clara Chan contributed to this report.