The Office Called Out for Problematic Portrayal of Asian Women by Guest Star Kat Ahn

The Office has come under fire for its portrayal of Asian American women in a season 3 episode from 2006. The Office episode in question, “A Benihana Christmas,” features a scene with two Asian American waitresses from the titular restaurant accompanying Michael (Steve Carell) and Andy (Ed Helms) back to Dunder Mifflin for a holiday party. In addition to referring to Benihana as “Asian Hooters,” Michael also marks one of the waitresses’ arms with a Sharpie so that he’ll be able to tell them apart.

Kat Ahn, who guest-starred as one of the two Asian American waitresses, is now decrying the show over the role she played. Speaking with The Washington Post in a new interview, Kat Ahn opened up about the situation nearly 15 years later, detailing how her excitement to appear on the series quickly crumbled once she realized how her character was “just there to be the joke.”

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“You’re told to shut up and be grateful. Actors have no power until they become a star,” Ahn said. From Ahn’s viewpoint, doing the episode has also affected her personal life, as she also explained how the Office joke would continue to come up for years to come. This includes a co-worker once attempting to draw on her arm in reference to the controversial storyline.

Ahn has previously spoken out about her feelings on her guest role on The Office. On TikTok in January, she detailed how the “problematic” way the series depicted Asian women. In the video, Ahn explains: “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.”

The Office stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey, who analyze the series in the popular podcast Office Ladies, have also addressed these concerns. While the actresses explain the thought process behind the joke, insisting that it wasn’t about how physically attractive the waitresses were, they concur that the Sharpie moment was cringeworthy and probably wouldn’t make it into any TV show today.

“The idea here was simply that Michael and Andy couldn’t land the original waitresses that they’d been flirting with all night, and then they manage to get these two younger, kind of more naive waitresses to come back with them to the office,” Fischer explained, though the Sharpie joke made them “cringe.”

Kinsey added: “I just don’t think this storyline would have been written today.”

After years of dominating Netflix as one of the streamer’s most-watched shows, The Office made its move to NBCUniversal’s Peacock this year. As of now, the two-part episode “A Benihana Christmas” is still streaming on Peacock and even includes the extended “Superfan” cut exclusive to the streamer. As Peacock has been trimming down offensive content from its library of WWE programming, however, there’s a good chance “A Benihana Christmas” could get pulled from the streamer next. This news comes to us from The Washington Post.

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