An actress from The Office is calling out the popular sitcom for its portrayal of Asian American women, and the episode in question has long been a fan favorite. Kat Ahn, who appeared in the holiday episode “A Benihana Christmas,” recently spoke out about the stereotypes it perpetuated.
A “Problematic” Episode Of ‘The Office’
In the episode, Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell, invites two Asian waitresses to the office holiday party. He also refers to the restaurant where he met them, Benihana, as “Asian Hooters” and marks one girl on the arm with a Sharpie because he can’t tell them apart. That idea of the two Asian women being so interchangeable was echoed in the fact that the waitresses Carell’s character initially flirts with aren’t the ones he winds up bringing back to the office party.
Kat Ahn played one of the waitresses and spoke about the experience with the Washington Post. She had initially been excited about appearing on the show, but after she realized she was “just there to be the joke,” she began to feel differently. “You’re told to shut up and be grateful,” Ahn added.
Ahn has talked about her experience on The Office before. She created a viral Tik Tok video earlier this year where she called the episode’s depiction of Asian women “problematic.” She went on to explain, “The story line with myself and the other Asian American actress is that we were the ‘uglier’ version of the actresses at the Benihana.”
Other Stars Of The Show Weigh In
In her podcast called Office Ladies, Jenna Fisher, who played Pam, explained that the idea behind the switch wasn’t that Michael couldn’t tell the women apart, but that the second pair of ladies were younger and not as “sophisticated,” so they were easier to persuade to come back to the party. She and her co-host, fellow The Office alum Angela Kinsey, did agree that the episode was problematic.
Regardless, Ahn insisted that the episode was a perfect example of Asian Americans being treated as “one big monolith” and as if they’re “one big, walking stereotype without any personality or individuality, which is problematic.” Since both Fisher and Kinsey agreed that the episode probably wouldn’t be written today, it’s clear that attitudes are changing.