I forgot how I came across this Netflix documentary, ‘American Factory,’ but after my brother saw the film and mentioned it, I knew I had to watch it. The film is about:
“In 2014, Fuyao bought part of a closed General Motors assembly plant in Ohio and created thousands of jobs, revitalizing a local industrial sector that had fallen on desperately hard times when GM left town during the 2008 recession. American Factory charts the wave of exultation that greeted the arrival of Fuyao, followed by culture clashes, growing pains, and eventually forms of internal and external pushback that had been largely unknown to the company. …
When Fuyao comes to Ohio, the company brings with it several hundred Chinese employees who have experience in running a large-scale glass-making operation. They’re there to help train the 2,000 new American hires, many of whom are former GM employees, on the intricacies of industrial glass production. The breadth of footage that Bognar and Reichert capture over the next few years is staggering and includes intense labor on the factory floor, boardroom negotiations, and a unionization battle that ripples through each layer of the company. As the Chinese employees are told, in the United States you can freely mock the president and “follow your heart.” But the conditions the Fuyao workers face are challenging, and the locals’ initial friendliness toward the company curdles into something more complex as the United Automobile Workers begin to organize the factory.”
The film reminded me of the stories I would read about in the 1980s about the Japanese auto manufacturers coming to the United States to setup production in America’s heartland, including the ficitional film (and later the ill fated TV series, ‘Gung Ho’):
This documentary also happens to be the first film backed by former President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama:
“Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert have been making social issue documentaries for decades. But the Dayton, Ohio-based filmmaking duo (and couple) got the shock of their careers at Sundance this year, when they learned that Barack and Michelle Obama had seen their latest film, American Factory, and wanted it to be the first release from the former president and the first lady’s new Netflix-based production company, Higher Ground.
Bognar and Reichert had been nominated for an Oscar for their short 2009 documentary The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, about the shuttering of an auto plant in Dayton. When China-based auto-glass manufacturing company Fuyao purchased that factory in 2014, Bognar and Reichert returned with their cameras to document what they hoped would be an historic story about capitalism, globalization and a co-mingling of wildly different cultures.”
You can see the Obamas talking with the Bognar and Reichert below:
What is really amazing about the documentary is the level of access the filmmakers had – they had carte blanche access from the Chinese billionaire founder/chairman Cao Dewang of Fuyao. This interview with some of the filmmakers and some of the factory workers durig the 2019 Sundance film festival discuss how the film was made.
I liked how the documentary covered the perspectives of both sides – the American workers as well as Chinese workers. The documentary definitely shows various opinions and thoughts by both Americans and Chinese. Interestingly, pirated copies of the documentary have been making the rounds in China, with of course, a wide range of opinions as well.
If you’re interested in learning more about the differences between Chinese and American workers and management styles, at least in a manufacturing context, you should definitely see this film.