Please note that this post contains references to sexual assault and may be triggering for some.
It’s now been almost ten days and a full business week since reporter and producer Aura Bogado tweeted about David Choe’s past, his role on Beef, and why he was given the opportunity.
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? Ok. https://t.co/qL2yhiU3bG— Aura Bogado (@aurabogado) April 13, 2023
The sound on my first TikTok ever was removed due to a community guideline violation. Itâ€™s merited given @davidchoeâ€™s description of this brutal sexual assault.— Aura Bogado (@aurabogado) April 14, 2023
Waiting to hear why @aliwong and @steveyeun made a decision to give Choe this platform. Silence really speaks volumes. pic.twitter.com/qT6f0cb3AA
For more background on how the situation has unfolded over the last few days, The Hollywood Reporter’s summary is here.
To be clear, David Choe’s story from that podcast in 2014 is heinous, even if he now claims it wasn’t true. Fiction can still be harmful and traumatising, especially fiction that is produced with intent to shock. What is the value in cavalierly joking about an incident, whether or not it actually happened, that involves sexually assaulting a Black woman? It’s indefensible, and while David has apologised for it in the years since and talked about the circumstances that led to his disgusting behaviour, his actions this week, and the lack of action on the part of his collaborators, undermine whatever alleged remorse he has claimed to have about his crimes, real or imagined.
For starters, he used copyright infringement to try and silence the journalists and culture critics, including Aura Bogado and Meecham Whitson Meriweather, who have been calling attention to his past. Contrition requires accountability – and how contrite can David possibly be if he’s not only not being accountable but shutting down those who are asking for accountability? He was the one who, of his own volition, back in 2014, said that he forced a massage therapist to perform sexual acts on him. He was the one who wrote on an Instagram apology post in 2017 that:
“I do not believe in the things I have said although I take full ownership of saying them. Additionally, I do not condemn anyone or have any ill will towards those who spread hate and speak out negatively against me, no one will ever hate me more than I hated myself back then.”
But slapping a copyright infringement on the people who are asking about his old controversies is a condemnation. It is also ill will. And they’re not spreading hate – they are simply asking questions, important questions, about rape culture and our society’s ongoing enabling of those who perpetuate it, even just through "stories".
Also, there is no time limit on taking “full ownership”. Taking ownership, aka taking accountability, is not a one and done process, it’s an ongoing journey because learning and improving is perpetual. People CAN change. But change, by its very nature, is constant. By David’s own admission in that Instagram post, he was trying to change through “action and understanding”, but the kind of action and understanding he’s demonstrated over the past week has been to try and bury his controversy through copyright notices and avoid having to address it. And if you’re not willing to address it, if you’re not willing to be part of the conversation, are you really all about change?
In the years since David told his reprehensible story on that podcast, his career has gone from high to high. He got his own show in 2021 on FX and Hulu, The Choe Show. In an interview with The New York Times to promote the show, he was asked about the vile sh-t he said on the podcast and he explained that:
“I’m a recovering liar. Instead of being hard on myself and judging myself, I just correct myself.”
And then added towards the end that:
“I don’t know if I’ve said anything to you right now that I’m going to get canceled for, so I just assume any time I do anything, the haters come out. If you want to come and try to cancel me, that’s OK. I don’t live in fear.”
Well, living in fear sure looks a lot like silencing the people who are pointing out that you were wrong instead of hearing them out and participating in a discussion that helps everyone move forward. Perhaps the way he sees it is that he’s already talked about it multiple times, his Instagram post is still up, he was asked about it a few years ago, and he doesn’t want to revisit it. And he didn’t really have to with The Choe Show.
Beef and Netflix are a different story though. The series has put David Choe in the kind of spotlight he’s never experienced before and introduced him to a much wider audience. For example, I had never heard about the rape story in 2014 – I only found out about it when Aura Bogado’s tweets went viral last week. So there are a LOT of people who are just meeting David Choe and his past for the first time because of Beef and it’s not up to them to go looking for his explanation. If he’s truly about taking ownership, he should be the one actively providing it.
And that’s also on Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, too. It’s well known that they’re all friends. That they co-signed him, as fellow artists and as the executive producers, to be on the show. Steven and Ali have yet to speak on the decision to involve him in this project – and not just any project but this passion project, a project they both are heavily invested in. Netflix hasn’t said anything either.
While it’s true that people don’t always know everything there is to know about their friends, it’s almost impossible – at least to me – that Steven and Ali wouldn’t have known about this. In that NYT interview from 2021, it’s mentioned that Disney knew about it when they were considering The Choe Show:
“Mr. Choe said he had funded [The Choe Show] out of his own pocket, with a plan to post it to YouTube if no one picked it up. FX came along, but executives at the Walt Disney Company-owned network expressed reservations before reaching a deal, he said.
Their concern was that 'I might be getting canceled,' he said.”
The point here is that industry executives were aware of David’s controversies. So I don’t buy that Netflix executives and Steven and Ali wouldn’t have been aware. But the other point is that Disney was aware and still went ahead with The Choe Show… which the Beef team would have seen as a pass of sorts. Like if Disney was OK with it, and nothing happened there, we should be fine, we can go ahead and do this and not have to justify it.
Which is why, I suspect, they never f-cking considered that they would have to answer to this. Which is why they don’t have a f-cking answer! Which is why it’s been this long and they’re basically not engaging with this at all, and that’s only adding to the collective disappointment.
Because there could have been an opportunity for meaningful conversation. Beef is about anger, bad decisions, confronting the ugliest parts of yourself, finding community, and also forgiveness. According to David Choe and his 2017 Instagram post, he would know something about all of the above. And if his friends, Steven and Ali, know from their personal connection to him how intimately familiar he is with these themes, there would have been a way here, if they were willing, to make that part of the work. To NOT run from the past but engage with it as part of the art…
Which is the f-cking point of art! Like actual art, and not the f-cksh-t that David was trying to pass off as art in 2014.
Instead, what we’re seeing is artists hiding behind copyright laws, and insulated by fame, and banking on the culture’s short memory. The copyright move and insulation might work, but the way they’ve handled it so far, they’ve ensured the culture will make a point of remembering… allll the way up to the Emmy nominations.