Obamas' Netflix Doc Depicts Chinese Factory Life in the US

By Katherine Chen, August 23, 2019

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A new documentary titled American Factory, which was produced by former US first couple Michelle and Barack Obama and explores the repercussions of globalization on ordinary people, dropped on Netflix on Wednesday.

American Factory is the debut film of the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions. Directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, it explores the complex underpinnings of the entwined economies of the US and China through an inside look at a Chinese factory in Ohio.

The film tells the story of Chinese company Fuyao’s factory in Dayton, Ohio. It showcases the life of American workers at the manufacturer of automative glass, which employs over 2,000 local workers in the factory, the largest single-sale glass manufacturing facility in the world. 

Supervisors are Chinese and managers are American. Through the juxtaposition of a Chinese-run factory in the American Midwest, it draws on the inevitable cultural and economic contrasts that come to exist in this kind of environment.

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Image via Higher Ground Productions/iMDB

As explained over at the Economist, certain factory conditions overwhelm the workers, and supervisors don’t see them in the best light. Management complains that the workers are too lazy, while the workers struggle under the prioritization of speed over safety. When they attempt to unionize, the chairman threatens to shut down the plant completely.

Simultaneously, the Chinese chairman, Cao Dewang, takes steps to ensure that they do not upset the Americans, such as advising contractors against putting Chinese photos on the factory walls.

The film then shifts to a Fuyao factory in China. Visiting American workers see the reality of factory life on the other end: A place where speed is not just prioritized over safety, but the dominating aspect of business, with efficiency at its core. 

READ MORE: Chinese Consumers Boycott American Products Amid Ongoing Trade War

The Netflix doc does its best to showcase the people behind the politics. “American Factory doesn’t come in with a perspective; it’s not an editorial,” Michelle Obama said. 

Former President, Barack Obama, added, “We want people to be able to get outside of themselves and experience and understand the lives of somebody else.”

“We are melding two different cultures – the Chinese and the American,” a Fuyao executive says in the film.

The film won the Directing Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, where it was first released. It premiered on Netflix on August 21, 2019 and was quick to garner rave reviews, enjoying a 97% ‘freshness rating’ on Rotten Tomatoes.

READ MORE: Trump Threatens China With New Tariffs on Consumer Goods

[Cover image via Higher Ground Productions/iMDB]

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