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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 storytelling about two strangers locked 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 resurfaced controversy involving co-star David Choe and the lack of a response from the companies and creative team behind the A24-produced series.
In 2014, Choe, a visual artist who was then best known as the muralist who painted Facebook’s headquarters in exchange for stock (making him a reported $200 million), was co-host of a podcast with adult film actress Asa Akira. In one episode, he says that he once compelled 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 that’s rapey behavior, but I am not a rapist.”
The anecdote was first picked up by writer Melissa Stetten on the now-defunct website XOJane and gained further traction through a BuzzFeed writeup. Shortly thereafter, Choe claimed that his story about the masseuse was art. “I’m sorry if anyone believed that the stories were fact,” he wrote. “They were not!” The controversy surfaced again in 2017 after Choe was commissioned to paint a mural on The Bowery in downtown Manhattan. Other artists came together in protest: “Our aim is to provoke widespread rejection of the continued normalization of rape culture by bringing visibility to the topic,” said organizer Jasmine Wahi at the time.
Choe then issued a more thorough apology on his Instagram account: “How does one apologize for a lifetime of doing wrong? Through my past three years of recovery and rehabilitation, I’ve attempted to answer that question through action and understanding,” he wrote. “In a 2014 episode of DVDASA, I relayed a story simply for shock value that made it seem as if I had sexually violated a woman. Though I said those words, I did not commit those actions. It did not happen. I have ZERO history of sexual assault. I am deeply sorry for any hurt I’ve brought to anyone through my past 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 last 3 years in mental health facilities 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 ownership of saying them. … I am truly sorry for the negative words and dark messages I had put out into the world.”
Since then, Choe has slowly moved closer to the pop culture mainstream — in 2021, he was profiled in 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 time in my life, I was done with life 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 response to the internal shame I felt.”
But the rhapsodic reception to Beef — the show, at least during the first week after its release, was already gaining early Emmys buzz — introduced Choe to a new and widespread audience. In the series, Choe plays a character not dissimilar from his real-life, defiantly dirtbag persona (which up until at least a decade ago was marked in part by a fixation on sexually violent fantasies and language) — as Isaac, the ex-con cousin of Yeun’s protagonist. Isaac is a crude loose cannon who represents the biggest threat of actual danger among the ensemble. Choe also contributed the artwork for the title cards preceding each episode, and his friendships with Yeun and Wong, who are also executive producers on Beef, are well-documented.
Amid the glowing press mentions and rave reviews for Beef, Aura Bogado, a senior reporter at the Center for Investigative Reporting, tweeted on April 12, “David Choe, as in the guy who detailed the way 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 recapping his podcast story. Her tweets and clips from the podcast quickly went viral and continued to gain traction through the weekend, with dismayed viewers posting about their regret over already having watched Beef or declaring 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 presumed knowledge of the 2014 incident and decision to hire Choe anyway. As of press time, none of the parties have directly commented on the situation or answered The Hollywood Reporter’s requests for comment.
On Sunday, Choe appeared to respond to the controversy when Bogado and cultural strategist Meecham Whitson Meriweather both tweeted that their posts embedding the podcast clip had been taken down in response to a DMCA copyright claim. Both included screenshots of what appears to be an email from Twitter Support containing the original text of the complaint notice:
“Several Twitter users – @MediumSizeMeech and @aurabogado have re-uploaded a clip from Episode 106 ‘Erection Quest’ of our DVDASA live podcast and video series that was originally published on March 10, 2014 without our consent,” reads the report, which is signed “Sincerely, David Choe, The David Young Choe Foundation.”
Without a communications team, Twitter could not be reached for confirmation, but the Lumen database, a research project at Harvard University that collects takedown notices from the web, has records of the David Young Choe Foundation submitting a DMCA complaint to Google on April 13, asking for the removal of the episode 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 submit the required information to remove copyright infringing media stored on your platform,” the request stated. “Our organization’s original media content from the live podcast and video series, DVDASA (2013-present) produced, owned and featuring artist and performer, David Choe, was downloaded illegally and has been uploaded and shared publicly on Google Drive…. Original sources of material are 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 that has been taken since the controversy resurfaced.
J. Clara Chan contributed to this report.
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