If you’ve yet to watch Beef, then seriously, what are you doing?
Starring Academy Award-nominated actor Steven Yeun, who is Korean American, and Golden Globe-nominated actress-comedian Ali Wong, who is Vietnamese-Chinese American, Beef chronicles the chaos that ensues after two people involved in a road rage incident vow to ruin each other’s lives. The Lee Sung Jin-created series, which debuted on Netflix on April 6, 2023, has since received widespread critical acclaim.
Beef has also been the topic of much discussion, namely for its refreshing degree of Asian American representation. In fact, content creator Mar Mar (@marmaryeesa2022) breaks down the discourse surrounding the buzzy series in a recent TikTok.
“Can we talk about how Beef is so unapologetically Asian American?” she begins. “Beef is the Asian American experience mixed with generational trauma. Ali Wong summed it up perfectly for the LA Times: ‘When you have a predominantly Asian American cast, which is very rare, all the people get to be people. So when you reference who your favorite character is, you won’t say, ‘Oh, it’s the Asian one.'”
“We’re just seeing them live their lives, and it just so happens to be centered a lot around their culture.”
From Mar Mar’s perspective, the series has given audiences some of the most “authentic Asian American characters on television to date.”
“These characters don’t feel like they are reactionary to trying to combat Asian American stereotypes,” Mar Mar explains. “We’re just seeing them live their lives, and it just so happens to be centered a lot around their culture.”
Filial piety, she also notes, is a prominent theme in the show “because of how much value it holds within our community.”
“He has felt the unbearable burden and weight of not only needing to help his parents get back into America, but also feeling obligated to be an older brother and father figure to his younger brother Paul,” Mar Mar says of Steven Yeun’s Danny Cho, a first-generation Korean American son.
“She, too, is dealing with generational trauma that stems from her parents, given that her parents were not the best examples of what a healthy marriage looks like, on top of having a complicated relationship with her own mother,” Mar Mar explains of Ali Wong’s character, Amy Lau.
Mar Mar then praises the show for calling attention to the importance of Christianity among Koreans in the diaspora. Per a poll taken by Hankook Research in November 2020, 28 percent of all South Koreans identify as Christian.
“I’m so glad that Beef gave a spotlight to talk about the culture surrounding Korean churches,” she says. “Also, the fact that this is in Orange County, and Danny had to drive all the way to Orange County to be part of this church, is very relatable given LA traffic.”
A belief that Yeun’s Danny Cho maintains throughout the series is that “Western medicine doesn’t work on Eastern minds,” which Mar Mar says is incredibly resonant.
“So f****** relatable given our community’s stigma around therapy and mental health,” she says.
“Mainstream psychotherapy in America has its roots in Western Europe,” Geoffrey Liu, MD, and psychiatrist in McLean’s Behavioral Health Partial Hospital Program, said of the stigma. “Assumptions that some take for granted, like ‘talking about it will make you feel better,’ may not be shared with some Asian Americans who may prefer to deal with emotions by doing things, such as sports or academics.”
Finally, Mar Mar calls attention the way in which Beef subverts sexist, discriminatory beliefs about Asian women and female Asian drivers. Asian American women are often thought of as “faceless, quiet, invisible, or as sexual objects.” Amy Lau, on the other hand, is a self-made businesswoman with a fiery temper who completely annihilates these racialized stereotypes.
“Yes I love that the main storyline has little to do with being Asian American, but it’s like, iykyk!”
Asian American fans of the series have shared their own insights in Mar Mar’s comment section.
“You broke this down so perfectly. Felt so seen,” someone replied.
“first gen immigrant and still felt represented and saw some of the similarities. 10/10,” another wrote.
“Yes I love that the main storyline has little to do with being Asian American, but it’s like, iykyk!” one user commented.
In less than a week since its debut, Lee Sung Jin’s black comedy has not only resonated with Asian American audiences but with audiences of different backgrounds. The show, which just so happens to follow two Asian American characters, revolves around the struggle to exist in spite of a persisting, deep-seated sadness — an emptiness that proves to be excruciatingly relatable, regardless of ethnicity.
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