“The Office” has come under fire for its portrayal of Asian Americans after an actress spoke out about her experience on the hit NBC sitcom. Kat Ahn, who starred as Amy in the holiday episode “A Benihana Christmas,” recalled her time on the show eight years after its finale, according to the Washington Post.
In the episode, Steve Carell’s character, Michael Scott, has lunch at the popular Japanese steakhouse chain restaurant which he calls “Asian Hooters.” He invites two Asian waitresses to an office holiday party, marking one of them with ink to tell them apart. He then shows up at the party with two completely different Asian women.
Ahn recalled that a coworker at one of her office jobs following her appearance on the show attempted to write on her arm in a nod to the “joke.”
The Korean American actress said in a TikTok video from January that she and another Asian American actress were the “uglier versions” of the actresses that played the Benihana workers.
“All asian people look alike— we’re one big monolith and one we’re just one big walking stereotype without any personality or individuality,” she says about the episode’s message. “The whole joke was that all Asians look alike and that’s why Michael Scott couldn’t tell us apart. #problematic”
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She suggests that the show may have been able to get away with these damaging stereotypes as it aired “before wokeness.”
The stars who played Pam and Angela, Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, respectively, addressed the racism in the Benihana Christmas episode on their podcast, “Office Ladies.” They agreed that the scene in which Michael draws on the Asian woman made them “cringe.” However, they provided a different explanation for the character returning to the party with two other women.
“The idea here was simply that Michael and Andy couldn’t land the original waitresses that they’d been flirting with all night, and then they manage to get these two younger, kind of more naive waitresses to come back with them to the office,” Fischer explained.
Though Ahn was initially excited to be a part of “The Office,” she quickly realized that she was “just there to be the joke.”
She said it helped her understand why BIPOC actors take on racist roles.
“Sometimes you take a racist role because you need to pay your rent, want to join the union, or don’t want your agent to fire you,” she explained.
“You’re told to shut up and be grateful,” Ahn told The Post. “Actors have no power until they become a star.”
This isn’t the first time an actor from the show dealt with racism after its airing, according to Vanity Fair. Randall Park, who plays Jimmy Woo in Marvel’s “WandaVision,” said it’s not uncommon for fans of “The Office” to refer to him in real life as “Asian Jim.”
Ahn’s detailing of her experience comes in the wake of the Atlanta shootings, which left eight people dead, including six Asian women. The shooter denies his crimes were racially motivated, a point that has sparked widespread discussion on the fetishization of Asian women and the dangers it poses.