Ahn was cast as a Benihana waitress for the “Benihana Christmas” episode from the show’s third season. The joke of the episode boils down to the historically racist concept of “all Asians look alike” as Michael Scott (Steve Carell) marks Ahn’s arm with a Sharpie so he can tell her apart from her other Asian American co-worker portrayed by actress Kulap Vilaysac. Now, 15 years later, Ahn decided to open up about the bit in a TikTok video.
“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,” Ahn said after explaining why actors like herself often stay roles they don’t agree with.
“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 explained while acknowledging the culture when the episode originally aired. “Also, this episode was before, you know, wokeness.”
In a follow-up video, she detailed to her viewers that she took the role simply because it was available. Yet, after being subjected to this experience and similar moments, she realized that it’s on her and people that look like her to write accurate Asian American narratives.
“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 continued. “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.”