American Factory (Netflix) (2019)
August 26, 2019 12:12 PM - Subscribe

In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.

Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert, the directors of the film, spent three years producing the film about Fuyao’s factory in Dayton. The Chinese staff are perplexed at what they perceive to be the lackadaisical attitude of the American workforce compared with Chinese factory workers. And the Americans become increasingly concerned at the apparent erosion of their already fragile rights and the lack of adherence to health and safety in the workplace.

Interspersed are some human stories - of people who lost everything when the GM plant closed in 2008 and who were trying to make a decent living again, and of Chinese staff baffled by life in America. I was particularly touched by the friendship between Wong He, sad and homesick for his wife and children back in China, and Rob Haerr, a gruff Ohioan trained by Wong He to work on the assembly line. The photo of Wong He posing like James Bond in a tuxedo with a pair of pistols On Rob's farm was endearing.

After some of the Ohio staff went to China to see how things were done there, one particular manager decided to introduce the military-style line-up he was impressed with in China for his own morning pep-talk. He thought it went well. The faces of his team said otherwise. If ever an entire group of people had a collective "you are a dickhead" look on their faces, this was it.

The increasing worries about low wages, workplace safety and lack of transparency (notwithstanding the company song) resulted in staff trying to unionise. The directors showed both sides of the argument, and the consequences for those whose interests weren't aligned with those of the company.
posted by essexjan (6 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
- I wish there had been more conversations with the Chinese workers, but I imagine it must have been difficult to get them to open up on camera. I had a lot of questions about their arrangements in the States. We found out they didn't get paid any extra for coming to the US, but were their accomodations paid for? What about transportation?

- I found it interesting that one of the American employees who got to visit the Fuyao factory in China was moved by the Christmas Party antics. I think I would have been utterly flabbergasted (and mildly horrified), but I'm glad his takeaway was positive. Work culture in Asia is... something else.

- I also enjoyed the brief moment of introspection from Chairman Cao which was quickly brushed away with a "meh, whatever. Time is money, etc."
posted by Rora at 8:44 AM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’m astonished that duct tape
manager guy isn’t being individually shamed on the internet in the manner that he deserves.
posted by kevin is... at 3:02 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

OMG that duct tape guy... I really felt for the other guy in that scene, politely nodding but clearly alarmed by the psychopathic laowai "joking" with him.

It was interesting watching this with my (blue-collar, immigrant Chinese) family - a lot of the folks in my parents' generation also arrived willing to work harder, longer, more dangerously and faced hostility very similar to some of the Dayton workers' toward "the Chinese". But of course the dynamic is very, very different when you arrive backed by a giant corporation that basically gets to decide the economic future of the town. The times, they are a-changing.

Re: the Fuyao Christmas party.. I'm pretty sure the American guy they interviewed was just completely. smashed. As in struggling to string together a coherent thought on camera. (During this part my dad turned to my brother and I and was like, "See, I moved to a foreign country and busted my ass 12 hours a day for 30 years so you guys wouldn't have to participate in crazy shit like this. You're welcome.")
posted by btfreek at 4:45 PM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

nuanced, sensitive, beautiful, touching, intelligent, a fitting first chapter to Obamas' producing debut
posted by growabrain at 1:14 PM on October 3, 2019

Nobody's gonna see this, but I watched this last night and had to come see if there was a discussion here on Metafilter. Tons to think about from this movie, but my one comment is on the American crying at the Chinese company party.

He knows he's fucked. It's sinking in how he simply cannot compete with the Chinese, or meet the owners expectations. We simply don't do things like work 12 hour days with no safety regulations, and we don't have the complete commitment to the company like he saw on display at the party.

Anyways, lots to think about.
posted by keep_evolving at 4:14 PM on December 28, 2020

I thought it was fairly interesting that the cultural training for the Chinese workers encouraged them to explore their freedoms. I would have thought that would be something the Chinese government would discourage. It’s probably not a good idea to allow your citizens to get big ideas about freedom and individuality and then bring them back home to a society that is very against those ideals in the first place.
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:19 AM on January 5, 2021

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