The Office Actress Kat Ahn Calls Out Show over 'Problematic' Portrayal of Asian Women in Benihana Episode
Asian American Kat Ahn opened up about how her portrayal on The Office negatively impacted her later in life.
Ahn appeared on the sitcom, which can be streamed on NBC Universal's streaming platform Peacock, for the "A Benihana Christmas" episode that aired in 2007.
In the episode, Steve Carell's character Michael Scott and Ed Helms' character Andy Bernard flirt with two Asian waitresses at a Benihana restaurant.
They then bring two other Asian waitresses, portrayed by Ahn and Kulap Vilaysack, back to the office's holiday party.
Carell's character also marked the arm of one of the waitresses with a sharpie – a move that one of Ahn's co-workers later did to her thinking it was a joke.
On the Office Ladies podcast, cohosts — and former stars of The Office — Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey previously discussed this moment, agreeing that it made them "cringe" while watching.
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Ahn recently told the Washington Post that at the time of filming The Office episode, she was excited to be cast on the sitcom until she found out she was "just there to be the joke."
"You're told to shut up and be grateful," the actress and comedian said of Asians and Asian Americans in the entertainment business. "Actors have no power until they become a star."
Ahn opened up about the experience in January on her TikTok account.
"I actually understood why BIPOC actors play racist roles. You know, sometimes, you gotta pay your rent. Sometimes you want to join the union. Sometimes you just don't want your agent to drop you," she said in one video. "Also, this episode was before, you know, wokeness."
She continued, "The storyline with myself and the other Asian American actress is that we were the 'uglier' version of the actresses at the Benihana. Also that all Asian people look alike, we're one big monolith, and we're just one big walking stereotype without any personality or individuality. Which is problematic."
In a follow-up video, the comedian began by saying, "Look, I took the role because it was a role."
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"What I realized is that you can't expect people to create roles for you if they don't know your experience, and that's why it's important for you to create your own content and have your own voice," Ahn urged citing examples from social media to writing scripts.
She added, "Asian American creators have a long way to go, especially in Hollywood. But with the success of Minari, Crazy Rich Asians and Parasite, I'm excited for the future for us to create roles that show us as three-dimensional human beings that aren't all psychos or stereotypes."
A rep for Peacock did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
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