American Factory Review: Foreign Investors Versus Local Workers

By Daniel Hart
Published: August 19, 2019 (Last updated: January 3, 2024)
Netflix Documentary American Factory


Barack and Michelle Obama’s first-ever produced film, American Factory, is wonderfully insightful, showing two opposing worlds in the same industry.

Netflix Documentary, American Factory, will be released on Netflix on August 21, 2019.

American Factory follows a post-industrial Ohio where thousands of jobs have been lost due to the shutdown of the General Motors Factory. The GM Factory was the heart and soul of the community, providing well-paid wages and the reality of fulfilling the American dream. That dream returned when a Chinese billionaire reopened the factory for car-glass company Fuyao.

What was supposed to be a dream turned into utter hell, forming a cultural stand-off between the working-class American and high-tech China. Obama’s first produced film is handled with the utmost sensitivity, drawing the demarcation line between the two communities, presenting the high-level executive opinion in comparison with boots on the ground.

American Factory is not presented with the ultimate moral standpoint, and it smoothly keeps itself well-seated on the fence, allowing the audience to firm up its own ideology of what is at stake. American Factory smartly presents the American workplace, and then the managers enjoy a trip to China to witness the Chinese workplace. The differences are horrifyingly vast, ranging from working conditions and necessary annual leave.

The Netflix documentary delves into the ethos between workers; it’s telling that some workers embrace their Chinese workers, trading languages, practice, and culture, solidifying left-like politics, while on the other hand, you can sense the rift between some colleagues. There are whispers in some interviews of distrust due to methods of working or a perceived attitude to an issue.

The crux of American Factory is the dynamic nature of the Worker’s Union. Interestingly, the Fuyao chairman is adamant the factory will be shut and moved if the Union is formed, which produces a less happy second half of the documentary, where workers protest and the stand-off becomes abundantly apparent, during times where the business is not making profits.

By its own standard, American Factory asks the questions in a world where automation is aggressively implemented; can two cultures work together in industrious environments to form a common goal?. With spiraling politics, will billionaire businesses overwhelm a desperate community for their own purposes, or will local incentives win at the detriment of the company?

What is clear is that foreign investment is not necessarily positive, and it presents high and low-level challenges for the middle managers. American Factory is wonderfully insightful and tragically honest by being neutral within itself, and maybe one of the best documentaries of this year.

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