Hollywood’s portrayal of Asian women in the media is historically disturbing. Harmful stereotypes, hypersexualization and fetishization have played a role in onscreen projects for decades, including at NBCs The office. Actress Kat Ahn recently opened up for The Washington Post about how her guest appearance on the “A Benihana Christmas” episode of the comedy show led to her being the butt of racist jokes.
In the 2006 episode, Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) calls Benihana “Asian Hooters” and marks the arm of an Asian waitress with Sharpie so he can tell her apart from another. Michael’s behavior throughout the show’s tenure is knowingly problematic and is said to be a parody of ignorant bosses at workplaces across the country. For Ahn, however, this story remains hurtful even 15 years later. Ahn said she was “only there to make the joke” and felt powerless. “You should shut up and be grateful,” she said. “Actors have no power until they become a star.”
Ahn previously explained this experience in a TikTok video. “The plot with me and the other Asian American actress is that we were the ‘uglier’ version of the actresses in Benihana,” she said. “Also, that all Asians look the same; we’re one big monolith; and we’re just one big, walking stereotype with no personality or individuality, which is problematic.” Ahn’s personal life has also been influenced by the show’s racism. Later, a worker in her office tried to tag her arm just like below. He would wipe her discomfort with a sadly typical response and say it was just a joke.
Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, who portrayed Pam and Angela on the show, agreed that this episode was problematic during their time Office ladies Podcast admitting the Sharpie scene makes them “wince”. Kinsey said, “I just don’t think this story was written today.” Fischer agreed: “I don’t think so either.”