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Beef’s sexual assault controversy, explained

In 2014, David Choe said he raped a woman. Then he claimed it was fiction.

David Choe is pictured in a long white tunic and large necklace, standing on a red carpet in front of a backdrop covered in the words “Netflix” and “Beef.”
David Choe attends Netflix’s Los Angeles premiere of Beef.
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Netflix and A24 teamed up for one of the best shows of 2023 in Beef, a drama about obsession and feuds anchored by stars Steven Yeun and Ali Wong. Since premiering this month, Beef has been critically acclaimed and also lauded for featuring a predominantly Asian American cast.

Now, the show is caught in an alarming controversy regarding a graphic story of sexual assault told by David Choe, one of the show’s supporting actors, during a 2014 taping of his podcast. Choe, a graffiti artist who plays Isaac — Danny’s (Yeun) shady, criminally inclined cousin — on the show, has in the past said that the story was just a fabrication. The controversy has resurfaced, however, because of Choe’s visibility, and Choe has reportedly been taking down videos of the podcast through copyright strikes, leading to more questions from fans about his past, and his involvement and casting in Beef.

Though Choe has maintained that he made up the story, in which he detailed sexually assaulting a massage therapist, fans and would-be viewers want to be assured that Choe’s past actions were taken seriously. Even if the story was fabricated, a graphically detailed boast about an incident that would unambiguously be described as rape, told in a public forum like a podcast, is problematic and raises a lot of questions about the person doing the boasting.

Netflix, A24, the producers and creator of Beef have not responded to fans’ concerns. Now, citing the lack of clarification surrounding Choe’s casting, some people are threatening to boycott the show.

Choe detailed a sexual assault on his podcast, which he later recanted

The sexual assault allegations that Choe is facing stem from his own account of a massage he received and how he pushed said massage into what seemed to be sexual assault.

On a March 2014 episode of Choe’s now-defunct podcast DVDASA, Choe described getting a massage from a biracial Black woman named Rose. Some have pointed out that even if Choe concocted Rose, his story is entrenched in racism and is a prime example of misogynoir.

During the massage, Choe said, he got sexually aroused and then began to masturbate in front of Rose. He explained that his behavior initially shocked Rose, and despite her reluctance and physically distancing herself from him, he continued with his sexual advances:

I just start jerking off. So then her hands gets off my leg and she just stops ... I go ‘Look I’m sorry I can’t help myself — can you just pretend like I’m not doing this and you continue with the massage?’ And she’s like ‘All right’ and she does ... I’m like ‘Can I touch your butt?’ and I reach out and touch her butt and she pulls away.

Despite the woman “pulling away” from his touch, Choe said that he continued to masturbate and attempted to convince Rose to have sex with him. He noted that his behavior was nonconsensual — that she was “definitely not into” the sexual encounter. He then described forcing her to perform oral sex on him.

After hearing the story, his co-host, adult film actress Asa Akira, appeared to be disgusted, responding, “You’re basically telling us that you’re a rapist right now, and the only way to get your dick hard is rape.”

“Yeah,” Choe responded.

Back in 2014, the well-known artist, whose work had appeared at Facebook HQ and who had worked with CNN and Vice, faced an outcry over the episode; Choe responded with a statement that recanted the story and claimed that he wasn’t telling the truth, but rather was trying to “provoke” his friends, co-hosts, and podcast team with his story of alleged rape:

The main objective of all of my podcasts is to challenge and provoke my friends and the co-stars on the show. We fuck with each other, entertain ourselves and laugh at each other. It’s a dark, tasteless, completely irreverent show where we fuck with everyone listening, but mostly ourselves. We create stories and tell tales. It’s not a news show. It’s not a representation of my reality. It’s not the place to come for reliable information about me or my life. It’s my version of reality, it’s art that sometimes offends people. I’m sorry if anyone believed that the stories were fact. They were not!

He added: “I am not a rapist. I hate rapists, I think rapists should be raped and murdered.”

Choe, Netflix, and Beef’s producers have not responded to questions from Vox regarding the podcast episode and Choe’s story.

In 2017, Choe was chosen to paint a mural on Manhattan’s Houston-Bowery Wall, which resulted in criticism from street artists citing Choe’s allegedly fabricated rape story. At the time, Choe released another statement apologizing for what he said on his podcast. He wrote, “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.”

Beef and Netflix’s response hasn’t been great

With the release of Beef, a show in which Choe stars as a minor character, there’s been a new spotlight on Choe’s story and the lack of clarification surrounding it. Specifically, people want to know if Netflix, co-producer A24, showrunner Lee Sung Jin, or producers and co-leads Steven Yeun and Ali Wong knew about it before hiring Choe to star in the show.

And if they were aware of what Choe claims was a fictional account, did they investigate it further and ensure that Choe was telling the truth?

Despite pleas on social media from fans of the show and people wanting answers regarding Choe’s casting, Netflix, A24, Lee, Wong, and Yeun have not officially commented on Choe’s hiring and if they knew about his podcast episode.

Lee, in an interview with the Today show prior to the controversy resurfacing, said that he reached out to both Wong and Yeun because he had found out they were acquaintances of Choe’s. “I texted Steven and Ali and asked, ‘Hey, like, do you think David would ever act?’” Lee told Today, adding that Choe was cast after he submitted a tape.

A few Twitter users, including reporter Aura Bogado, who posted Choe’s 2014 podcast episode, have said that posting the video resulted in copyright strikes from Choe via his nonprofit organization, the David Young Choe Foundation.

Without acknowledgment from those involved in the creation of Beef, it’s difficult to determine what actions, if any, are being taken, or if the incident Choe described is being investigated. The future for Choe and Netflix’s critically lauded show is uncertain as fans await a response.