With the increasing representation of Asian Americans in the media, it can be hard to flesh out characters beyond their racial identity and struggle. But, Beef does it well. Judy and Rachel discuss the success of Beef and its more nuanced portrayal of the Asian American story.

Judy: Hey everyone, my name is Judy.

Rachel: And my name is Rachel and you're listening to America Asian Girl, a podcast where we girl chat about the intersection of our Asian identities and girlhoods.

Judy: Earlier this month, Netflix’s original series Beef won the Golden Globe for Best Limited Series and it's the first TV show starring Asian American actors to win that category. And we're here today to discuss the first episode and I know Rachel has already finished watching the entire series.

Rachel: I came across it. I was just scrolling on Netflix one day and I saw it and the synopsis was pretty unique. So I felt drawn to it. I didn't know anything about like, you know, the Asian side of it going in.

Judy: Yeah, let's give our listeners a quick recap for those who haven't watched it yet.

Rachel: So basically, Danny Cho, who's played by Steven Yeun is a struggling contractor who gets into a road rage incident with Amy Lau, played by Ali Wong. The feud escalates as both characters get increasingly intertwined in each other's lives, committing one act of revenge at a time.

Judy: What was your first impression?

Rachel: I remember being really intrigued by the premise first of all, because, you know, the road rage, it was very intense. I thought it was kind of funny, like the car chase and everything. But then I felt, you know, I picked up on the subtle, like Asian nuances of it and I thought that was really cool.

Judy: Yeah, definitely. I realized why it was called Beef when like they had the whole road rage incident, I was like, oh, like this is the “beef” part of it. Because I, for some reason, I had no idea that the title meant like that “beef” referred to like the drama between two people instead of like the meat, even though they did use the meat as like one of the images in the drawings. So I like that wordplay and yeah, I mean, I think the biggest thing for sure is just the sort of theme of Asian anger throughout the first episode. And particularly because there's not too many sort of portrayals of, you know, Asian anger, Asians being angry with Asians, like getting agitated over things because Asians always portrayed as like submissive docile sort of people with like the model minority stereotype and such.

Rachel: Yeah, I thought, I thought it was really refreshing to see them. So like, visibly and viscerally angry also because I feel like a lot of at least for like East Asian countries you're taught to kind of like hold stuff in and like, let it simmer instead of like, you know, like letting it all out emotionally.

Judy: Like, on top of that, I think they definitely try to balance the sort of hiding and the sort of faking it in front of other people. So it talks about how in Asian culture, we have to like, sort of hide emotions. I think they definitely demonstrate that in the film when they have to hide for their kids or Amy has to hide for her kids. And in front of her family, her mother-in-law and her husband about all the sort of struggles that she's going through. And then Danny is also sort of like holding it all in a lot of times. Yeah. And also another sort of interesting topic about how this film defies stereotypes is how open it was to talk about topics that are usually stigmatized, like suicide.

Rachel and Judy: Yeah.

Judy: Both Danny and Amy go through. They have scenes depicting sort of suicidal attempts.

Rachel: Yeah. I, I was also pretty taken aback that they were just so like open about showing that because again, like, you know, mental health stuff is like, really not discussed in a lot of Asian spaces I feel. Yeah, I also really like that it wasn't like necessarily about their identity, but they still had like, interacting with other characters. Like you could tell that they are like Asian American because of either like the circumstances that they're in like, you know, with his, like, his relationship with his parents or it's, yeah, it's, like, very subtle and I appreciated that because it's not all about, like, their identity but, like, who they are as like people.

Judy: Yeah. And I think that really just broadens the sort of scope like Asian American stories and media. Like, before, like, when you think about, like, Asian American stories, like, they, all of them would have to be or they all of them tend to be about stories of like immigration or like other language barriers or just like things that are very much like head-on with their identity. But I really enjoy that word now, like moving towards stories that just treat Asian Americans as people and talk about just like stories about like random things as well like road rage. So I think it's definitely adding to the diversity of Asian American stories out there. It's a saturated market, I think for Asians talking about identity.

Rachel: Yeah, this show actually won three Golden Globe Awards. So one for the best limited series, but also the two main characters. Ali Wong, the actress and Steven Yuen the actor, they both won Golden Globes for their respective categories. So yeah, how do you feel about that?

Judy: It definitely is a big win to have like the first Asian American win in the category of like limited series. I think mainstream media definitely goes through ups and downs of when it decides to all of a sudden like, oh showcase Asian American achievements and sometimes when it doesn't, and I feel like Beef is just one of those times where it just didn't make it to, you know, mainstream media. And I think that's OK. Yeah, I personally did not hear about this until Rachel told me about it.

Rachel: Kind of coming back to our idea of how it's like not an Asian American story, but about two people who are Asian American, I think a lot of people could relate to like the really existential themes that Beef was trying to tackle and maybe that's also like a reason why it didn't get accepted into the mainstream, like as in, you know, like a big like Asian win because it's, I feel like it was more relatable to like a lot of different people. So like, for example, with Everything Everywhere All at Once, I felt like that was like a very Asian story like her coming to the US and opening her own business, which happens to be like a laundromat. So it's kind of, you know “stereotypically” Asian. But like Beef, even though there are a lot of Asian nuances in it, it's just about two people who are very depressed, depressed and trying to like figure out how to move on with their lives when they don't really want to. And I feel like that's more like that's more digestible to a larger range of people.

Judy: And so you're saying that because the themes in Beef is more universal that made it more like less mainstream?

Rachel: Just because it wouldn't be, it's not like being advertised as like, oh, like an Asian like-

Judy: Gotcha. Because it's not being advertised as an Asian identity story. Yeah, I think that's definitely a very interesting point. I also think that Beef is similar to Everything Everywhere All At Once because they're both in a similar genre of film of like that sort of like, yeah, like we said about existential and like weird, I think, put it plainly and we just had that in 2021. So now in 2024 I feel like people are like, oh, it's kind of similar to what we've seen and so maybe it didn't land as, you know, receive as much attention in mainstream media. That's another thing.

Judy: So Rachel, what are your final thoughts about Beef?

Rachel: I think it's worth watching because, well, first of all, I thought it was really well made like this, the script and like the plot development is interesting. And you know, clearly it won a few awards. So I think it's worth watching.

Judy: Thanks for chatting with me Rachel and thank you to our listeners for tuning into this week's episode of AmericAZN Girl, I'm Judy.

Rachel: And I'm Rachel, and we'll see you in the next episode.