The 81st Golden Globe Awards was a landmark win for Asians involved in a limited series.

Ali Wong and Steven Yeun made history at the awards show for their performances in the Netflix thriller “Beef,” with Wong being the first Asian American actor to win best female actor in a limited series and Yeun being the second actor of Asian descent to win in the category for best male actor in a limited series.

The series’ writer and director Lee Sung Jin also accepted the award for best limited or anthology series or television film. In his acceptance speech, Lee shared an anecdote about the real-life encounter that inspired the series. “Our show is actually based on a real road rage incident that happened to me, so I’d be remiss not to thank that driver,” he said. “Sir, I hope you honk and yell and inspire others for years to come.”

The 2023 ten-episode comedy-drama stars Wong and Yeun as Amy Lau and Danny Cho, respectively, two strangers whose lives become intertwined after their involvement in a road rage incident escalates. As Amy and Danny seek revenge against each other, they become unexpectedly more tangled in each other’s personal lives. 

The show juxtaposes the life circumstances of Amy, a wealthy business owner, and Danny, a struggling contractor trying to make a life for himself and his brother. In exploring the complexities of each character’s status, “Beef” tells the story of two desperate individuals trying to find meaning in their lives while struggling to balance their aspirations with the needs of those around them. What makes the series even more engaging is Lee’s unique Asian American cultural twist on an already high-stakes situation. 

A major aspect of the story concerns the heritage of the series’ main characters, whose ethnic and racial identities play an integral role in their characterization while being casually integrated into the plot and its themes. When looking at the series through a sociocultural lens, it is especially interesting to note how Lee plays with the “model minority” stereotype and uses Amy and Danny’s expressions of anger to combat the trope of Asian docility. 

Amy and Danny are also heavily influenced by their family and upbringing. By reflecting on Amy’s background as the child of a Chinese-American father and Vietnamese immigrant mother and Danny’s hardships as a Korean immigrant tasked with providing for his family, Lee delves into the nuances of Asian and Asian American culture in a way that artfully deconstructs perceptions of the Asian American community as monolith.

“Beef” is groundbreaking in its unprecedented creativity in re-imagining what Asian Americans can be as well as its complex narrative structure. The series’ success at the Golden Globes is also a testament to the progress forged by Asian Americans in the film industry. Prior to this year’s awards, Filipino American actor Darren Criss was the only individual of Asian descent to have won a Golden Globe in the limited series category for his work in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” 

While Asian success at the Globes dates back to 1961, when Nancy Kwan was named most promising newcomer, the history of Asians and Asian Americans at the awards show remains relatively sparse. It wasn’t until the 2020 Golden Globes that stories with a focus on Asian American perspectives, in addition to a majority Asian cast, were recognized. Awkwafina won the Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy or musical motion picture for “The Farewell,” followed by Michelle Yeoh, who won for her performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Ke Huy Quan was also awarded the Globe for best supporting actor last year.

Although films like “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Farewell” and “Minari” made history for their majority Asian cast and focus on Asian experiences, “Beef” is the first project of its nature to receive critical acclaim. While the film and television industry still has a long way to go in terms of APIDA representation, “Beef” has proven there is a platform for Asian Americans in comedy dramas.

Visual Credit: Peter Dutton


Comments are closed.