Culture Hack

What “Beef” can teach brands about representation

Anger isn’t exactly an emotion I’ve had positive associations with growing up. Part of the double-edged sword of model minority mythology is the overriding belief system of tolerance, acceptance, and stoicism in response to discrimination and aggression. Lay low, study hard, work smart. Get angry about getting angry. “Zen” has been hardwired into the modern stereotype of East Asian representation.

Which is why “Beef”, one of Netflix’s breakout hits of 2023, feels so refreshing. Ostensibly, it’s a dark comedy about anger, emptiness and the meaning of fulfilled living. But it’s also an (almost entirely) Asian American cast doing the getting angry, and in doing so, defying all kinds of myths and assumptions without preaching or edutaining. 

Getting angry matters. A bamboo ceiling persists for Asian Americans who may be represented in companies, but find perceptions of ‘leadership’ and ‘assertiveness’ holding them back from senior roles in which they are disproportionately underrepresented in North America. In one study of Asian American women who had experienced discrimination, 34% reported that others had assumed they were submissive or passive. And what’s more, when AAPI communities (especially women of East Asian origin) do adopt dominant or assertive stances in the workplace, they are more likely to be harassed or discriminated against by colleagues for violating the prescriptive stereotypes still held by the mainstream.

As storytelling and elevating become the marketing bywords of our decade, maybe brands can take a leaf out of the “Beef” playbook and be unafraid to truly humanize. A healthy dose of messy, candid and raw as a tonic to inspirational storytelling and role-model perfection that can end up perpetuating the model minority myths we seek to break apart.

-Ed Hunt