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Who is David Choe? The ‘Beef’ star’s 2014 ‘rapist’ comments resurface

By Alexandra Del Rosario, Los Angeles Times
Published: April 24, 2023, 5:00am

David Choe is feeling the heat, once again.

The artist — whose graffiti work and paintings famously graced the walls of Facebook headquarters — is facing renewed backlash over his 2014 claims of a sexual encounter with a massage therapist who did not give her consent.

The first wave of backlash came a month after he made the comments on his now-defunct “DVDASA” podcast. Then in 2017 activists spoke out against Choe when his work gained prime real estate at the Houston Bowery Wall. So what’s all the fuss now?

Earlier this month, Choe played a major part in the hit Netflix series “ Beef,” which stars Ali Wong and Steven Yeun. Now a TV star with a highly acclaimed drama to his name, Choe — and his missteps — are back in the spotlight.

Who is David Choe?

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Choe is a Korean American artist who got his start with graffiti murals across the city. Choe gained popularity after he brought his talents from the streets of L.A. to the walls of Facebook headquarters in Northern California, first in 2005 then again in 2012. He got paid in Facebook stock and may have earned up to $200 million off those murals.

Choe, who before his ascent was arrested multiple times in California for theft and once in Japan for assaulting a security guard, quickly became a staple in the Los Angeles arts scene. His work was regularly featured in Vice and he hosted two travel series for the outlet. His life was the subject of a 2008 documentary directed by filmmaker Harry Kim. Anthony Bourdain dined at his parents’ home in 2013 for a Koreatown episode of “Parts Unknown.”

What did he say in 2014?

Among his various creative ventures was the “DVDASA” podcast, which he co-hosted with adult film actor Asa Akira. During an episode that was released in March 2014, Choe recalled sexually assaulting a biracial woman named Rose, according to a 2014 report from the now-defunct website XoJane.

Choe said he placed the masseuse’s hand on his genitals without her consent. He claimed that he started to masturbate with the masseuse’s hand still holding him. Rose refused requests for other sexual favors, and he forced her into oral sex, the artist said.

“You raped,” Akira told Choe.

Akira told her co-host, “You’re basically telling us that you’re a rapist right now, and the only way to get your d— hard is rape.”

Choe responded: “Yeah.” He also called himself a “successful rapist.”

Former XoJane reporter Melissa Stetten first reported the comments. Other reports followed — and so did a statement from Choe.

According to BuzzFeed, Choe said in a statement shared on the podcast’s website, “I am not a rapist. I hate rapists, I think rapists should be raped and murdered.”

Choe said he saw the podcast as a “complete extension of my art” and that he’s guilty of “bad storytelling in the style of a douche.”

He continued, saying that his podcast, like his art, had been “misinterpreted” and that he intended to “challenge and provoke” those who were on the podcast with him.

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“It’s not a representation of my reality,” he continued. “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.”

How did he move on from that?

Months after the controversial podcast episode, Choe continued to showcase his artwork and launched other endeavors, including a $100,000 scavenger hunt in October 2014.

But his remarks would still follow him years later.

In June 2017, Choe painted a mural at the Houston Bowery Wall in New York, which would become a target for anti-rape protesters. Activists protesting Choe’s comments lined up that month for a performance piece called “No Means No. “

“This piece is intended to examine examples of violent and predatory misogyny,” a Facebook event description reportedly read. “Our aim is to provoke widespread rejection of the continued normalization of rape culture by bringing visibility to the topic.”

According to his website, Choe continued creating various artworks after that, including watercolor paintings and portraits.

In 2021 he hosted the FX series “The Choe Show,” interviewing and creating portraits of guests including Akira, Will Arnett, Maya Erskine and Rainn Wilson.

How does ‘Beef’ come into this?

In March 2022, Netflix revealed that Choe would join the cast of its then-upcoming series “Beef.”

The show, which premiered earlier this month, stars Ali Wong and Steven Yeun as two strangers entangled in a road rage incident that grows into a deeper meditation on relationships and obsession.

Choe stars as Isaac, an ex-convict who ropes his desperate cousin Danny (Yeun) into his shady ventures to make a quick buck. Most of the time, things take a turn for the worse whenever he’s involved.

“Beef” creator Lee Sung Jin told “Today” that Choe “happens to be friends with Yeun and Wong” — who are executive producers on the series. Lee said he asked the actors to text the artist to gauge his interest for a role in “Beef.”

“I just knew he was perfect,” Lee said. “That guy doesn’t know how to be false … every scene, he’s just so authentic.”

“Beef” went on to earn critical praise, and the series climbed Netflix viewing charts within days of its premiere. More eyes on “Beef” meant a closer look at the creatives who made it click.

How are ‘Beef’ fans taking it?

Social media was rife with praise for “Beef,” with Choe earning some for himself.

One user applauded his “great performance” as Isaac; another said his artwork featured on episode title cards “ added to the greatness of the show.”

Reporter Aura Bogado was less enamored by the praise for Choe, remembering the artist as “the guy who detailed the way he raped a woman.” Last week, Bogado shared a video of the 2014 conversation and linked back to Stetten’s XoJane report.

Days later, Bogado said her tweet with the video had been removed from Twitter, citing a copyright violation. According to screenshots posted by Bogado, Choe’s nonprofit, the David Young Choe Foundation, owns the rights to the controversial clip. NBC News reported that another user’s tweet sharing the video was also removed.

Choe did not immediately respond to the L.A. Times’ request for comment.

Amid the renewed backlash over Choe’s comments, some social media users have called on Netflix, Wong and Yeun to address their co-star’s controversy.

“I honestly thought this would come up, Ali Wong or Steven Yeun would clear it up and Choe would apologize, but instead they’ve all gone into hiding,” writer Heidi N. Moore tweeted.

“It’s disgusting how everyone involved with that show knew about it and ignored it,” another Twitter user wrote.

Representatives for Netflix, Wong and Yeun did not respond to the L.A. Times’ requests for comment.

Just weeks ago, a Google search for “Beef” led to the stars’ interviews with various outlets, reviews and trailers for a show that would become a hit. Now, the same search term offers news stories about “Beef actor David Choe” and “rape comments.”

Nevertheless, “Beef” sits at No. 2 on Netflix’s “Top 10 TV Shows in the U.S. Today” as of Wednesday morning. In the top spot is “Love Is Blind,” a series facing its own set of problems.