American Factory (2019)

Cultures collide. Hope survives.

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.

You always read about "cultural differences" as being something that must be overcome when dealing with international projects, but that language always felt so abstract to me; if anything, it seemed like more of an excuse as to why things might be delayed rather than a real problem. This doc did a great job of telling the story of what that concept really means in practice. _American Factory_ shows you how much friction is created due to the incongruity in cultural ideas about work ethic, personal freedoms, power, and process. I think that was the highlight of the story for me.
For me as an American, there were also feelings of frustration about having a country that doesn't have an answer for these people; their life goes from making $29 working for a US company, to making $12 for a Chinese company. The anti-labor-organizing that we see from Fuyao in the film isn't even unique to this being a China-based company; our home-grown Amazon does a pretty good job of hiring "labor relations" firms to weed out union organizing. I find myself agreeing with one of the speakers at a UAW event captured in the film: we've allowed our country to become one where the rich can exploit the poor, and it would be pretty cool to take it back.

Higher Ground Productions, Participant Media by Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert.
Stars: Junming 'Jimmy' Wang, Robert Allen, Sherrod Brown, Dave Burrows.

Genres: Documentary

Keywords: factory worker culture clash ohio chinese american blue collar worker manufacturing plant


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