A Guest Star From 'The Office' Called Out Its Portrayal Of Asians In A Popular Episode
Beloved TV shows of years past are facing a long-overdue reckoning. Popular '90s sitcoms like Friends and Sex and the City have been called out for problematic remarks and storylines, and even more recent series like The Office aren't immune to renewed criticism. Most recently, actor Kat Ahn's quotes about The Office's Benihana episode point out a specific time Michael Scott's antics were decidedly not funny.
In the 2006 episode "A Benihana Christmas," Ahn played Amy, one of the two Benihana servers whom Michael brought to the office's Christmas party. The big comedic payoff of this setup? Michael couldn't tell the two servers apart, so he marked Nikki (Kulap Vilaysack), the one he dubbed his "girlfriend," with a Sharpie. Ahn reflected on this experience in a March 26 interview with The Washington Post about how Asian women are portrayed in films and television. Ahn said she felt like she was "just there to be the joke" in the episode. "You’re told to shut up and be grateful," Ahn said in the interview. "Actors have no power until they become a star." Elite Daily reached out to a rep from NBC about Ahn's quotes but did not hear back in time for publication.
The Post article was published days after a white man killed eight people — six of whom were Asian women — in Atlanta. The mass shootings have not yet been officially classified a hate crime, despite public outcry that they should be deemed as such, especially in light of the increase in anti-Asian violence in the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic.
But Ahn had been publicly speaking out about The Office's treatment of Asian characters since the start of 2021, when she uploaded a TikTok detailing her discomfort with the episode. "The storyline with myself and the other Asian American actress is that we were the uglier versions of the actresses at the Benihana," Ahn explained. "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."
The Office stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey discussed the Sharpie joke during a 2020 episode of their Office Ladies podcast. "This moment really made me cringe," Fischer admitted. Kinsey concurred: "I just don't think the storyline would have been written today."
However, Ahn's quotes about the scene make it clear it probably shouldn't have been written back then, either.