American Factory (2019)

american factory poster 2019 movie documentary
9.0 Overall Score

A great look at a clash of cultures and the problems facing workers today


Movie Info

Movie Name: American Factory

Studio: Higher Ground Productions

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s):  January 25, 2019 (Sundance)/August 21, 2019 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

american factory boss tours plant

Welcome to America….now what’s this about “OSHA”?

Dayton, Ohio has struggled as many American working class towns have over the years.  Industry has moved, work has been compartmentalized, and workers are unemployable or unable to find jobs with matching skills or pay.  When Chinese glassmaker Fuyao purchases an old GM plant, Dayton gets a second chance at life for thousands of displaced workers.  Unfortunately, the Chinese and Americans have different takes on work, safety, and ethics of employment…and the Fuyao takeover might not be the blessing that some are seeking.

Directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, American Factory is a documentary film.  The movie was produced by Higher Ground Productions which is owned by Barack and Michelle Obama and was released at Sundance before being released to Netflix.  The film garnered positive reviews and was the winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

I am from the Midwest, and just from the description of American Factory, I could see the potential problems arising in the movie.  The work ethics of both cultures are very different and there were bound to be clashes…and it starts from the get-go.

american factory chinese dance presentation windshield

These guys are really into their windshields

The movie does a decent job of not vilifying one side or another.  The Chinese don’t want unions and neither do most big businesses.  Unions have potential to slow-up production and sow disagreements between employees.  This is seen as the factory workers are planning to vote for the UAW, and it makes the people who want a union a target.

On the flipside, there are a lot of things that the Chinese owners don’t get about American employees.  The trip to China shows how much for the workers there life and work can’t be separated.  There is pride and there is sacrifice.  One of the people state that the Americans only want to work for money…which is true.  To many in American a job is primarily money.  If you like your job, it is just bonus.  It is about the times outside of work that Americans live for, but it doesn’t mean they don’t or can’t have pride in their work.

american factory workers union

They might be selling it, but they aren’t buying

The final section of the documentary shows the bigger problem.  The original plan was for the Chinese to start the company and move out once it became self-sufficient.  The union arguments and problems with production flow forced the Chinese to stay there longer and as the work continued, automation became more and more financially viable.  Not only is it cheaper and can go essentially 24-7, there is no potential for injury or lawsuits.  It is something that every factory is facing.  The bigger issue might be what incentives were offered to company to come to Dayton and if there is any re-negotiations since they are probably getting tax breaks with less employees than original stated.

American Factory is a documentary that showcases the problems facing workers all over the world.  There is such animosity brewing between countries, but a lot of it is because of animosity between workers and employees…aka the haves and the have nots.  I like that in the case of the film, both Chinese and American workers on the grassroots level found a kinship and had an effect on each other.  It is the key to advancing and solving some of these issues…business and politics just need to stay out of the way.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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