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‘The Office’ Actor Kat Ahn Calls Out “Problematic” Asian Stereotypes in Benihana Episode

‘The Office’ Actor Kat Ahn Calls Out “Problematic” Asian
Stereotypes in Benihana Episode 1

Kat Ahn, an actress who appeared in The Office‘s “Benihana Christmas” episode, is reflecting on the “problematic” role she played in the Season 3 bit. Ahn, who is Asian-American, played a waitress who served Michael (Steve Carell) and his coworkers. After multiple drinks, Michael and Andy (Ed Helms) convince Ahn’s character and her coworker (Kulap Vilaysac) to come back to the office with them for a Christmas party, where Michael eventually has to mark Ahn’s character with a Sharpie to differentiate her from the other Benihana waitress.

Now, about 15 years after the episode first aired in 2007, Ahn told The Washington Post she was “just there to be the joke,” which she quickly realized after her initial excitement over the role faded away. “You’re told to shut up and be grateful,” she said. “Actors have no power until they become a star.”

Ahn first opened up about her experience on The Office on TikTok, People reports. In a video posted in January, she explained, “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 a January 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 second video posted just a couple of days later, she admitted that she took the role simply “because it was a role.” “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,” she said. “Asian American creators have a long way to go, especially in Hollywood. But with the success of MinariCrazy 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.”

In an August episode of their popular podcast “The Office Ladies,” former Office stars Angela Kinsey and Jenna Fischer looked back on the episode with their costar Rashida Jones, per USA Today. “I just don’t think the storyline would have been written today,” Kinsey said, while Jones admitted watching the episode back now, over 10 years later, “feels different.”

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“What works about Michael is this delicate balance between full cringe and well-intentioned, lovable, bad boss,” Jones said. “And to watch it now in the current climate like that balance feels different. … I think it’s good to have things that read really badly now and didn’t read badly at the time, because it is a mark of our progress,” she said. “The show resonates because Michael reminds people of their bosses and people they work with and maybe a little bit of themselves. And it’s really important that people see that like you have to measure up to the moment that you’re in.”

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