An Asian American actress who had a small part in an episode of “The Office” has condemned the NBC show for its “problematic” portrayal of Asians.
In an episode that aired in 2007, “A Benihana Christmas,” Kat Ahn plays the role of one of two Asian Benihana waitresses who are taken back to the office by Michael Scott, played by actor Steve Carell. During the episode, Carell’s character cannot tell the two women apart, telling other male charters on the show, “You know how all waitresses look alike.” He also puts a black mark on one of the women’s arms to differentiate between the two.
In a video posted to social media, Ahn called the jokes “problematic.”
“I actually understood why BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) 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,” Ahn detailed in a video posted in January, according to PEOPLE magazine. “Also, this episode was before, you know, wokeness.”
“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,” she said. “Which is problematic.”
In a follow-up video post, Ahn said she had to take the role to pay her bills. “Look, I took the role because it was a role,” she said.
“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 continued, adding, “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.”
Speaking to The Washington Post last week, the actress said she felt that she was “just there to be the joke” when she was cast in the role.
“You’re told to shut up and be grateful,” said Ahn. “Actors have no power until they become a star.”
In 2018, Carell acknowledged to Esquire that “The Office” would not be made in these politically correct times.
It “might be impossible to do that show today and have people accept it the way it was accepted 10 years ago. The climate’s different,” the actor said, adding, “I mean, the whole idea of that character, Michael Scott, so much of it was predicated on inappropriate behavior. … A lot of what is depicted on that show is completely wrong-minded. That’s the point, you know? But I just don’t know how that would fly now. There’s a very high awareness of offensive things today—which is good, for sure. But at the same time, when you take a character like that too literally, it doesn’t really work.”
“The Office” is currently available on NBC streaming platform Peacock. It’s unclear if any episodes or scenes from the hit show will be removed, as has happened to numerous allegedly offensive media in recent years.
Days ago, it was announced that two episodes of the cartoon “Spongebob Squarepants” have been pulled from Nickelodeon “due to sensitivities surrounding the global, real-world pandemic.” This week, Scholastic pulled a “Captain Underpants” spinoff over concerns about Asian stereotypes. And last month, the estate of Dr. Seuss stopped publishing six books over apparent racial insensitivities.
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