As soon as he crosses the threshold, he and the audience are transported into a visceral moment of Evangelical church worship. There’s hands aloft in prayer. There’s a band singing a wrenching song about forgiveness. The soft sunlight illuminates sturdy wood pews, limning swaying worshipers in white gold.
Overwhelmed, without saying a word, Danny breaks down in tears.
Without spoiling too much, it’s not the last time Danny visits, and the church becomes another character in the show.
Some viewers say the details of the church scenes, down to the exact rendition of “Amazing Grace” Yeun sings in one episode (inspired by contemporary Christian mega-artist Chris Tomlin), reflect a deep understanding of a very specific type of Korean American experience: that of an immigrant church, often evangelical, Protestant or both; and all of its joys and sorrows.
“(He) felt like the most realized version of himself at his Korean church, where he didn’t have to code-switch,” GQ’s Chris Gayomali wrote at the time. “In his youth group, everyone could just move through their little contained world in the fullness of who they were.”
CNN has reached out to Steven Yeun for further comment.
“(We) tried to do a very Korean church, happy version of ‘Amazing Grace.’ That felt very nostalgic as well, because that’s something that my praise band growing up would have done.”
Continuing or beginning a church practice in the US gave Korean immigrants, like so many others, a place of community that helped preserve their cultural identity. Paradoxically, it also gave subsequent generations of Korean Americans a place to explore their identity beyond ethnicity.
“Beef’s” creators say they specifically didn’t want to market the show as an Asian American-led work.
Top image: Steven Yeun as Danny in Netflix’s “Beef.”