Ever since the financial crash of 2008, an increasing number of factories across the country have shut down. In the new Netflix documentary “American Factory,” a former General Motors factory in Moraine, Ohio is bought out by a Chinese car glass company named Fuyao. What starts off as an opportunity for the people of Moraine, quickly turns into a situation they never asked for.
Directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert do a fantastic job capturing the frustration of the workers and showing what goes into running a factory. The stark differences in working conditions between China and the United States is outstanding. At the Fuyao plant in Moraine, workers are allowed eight days off a month while at a Fuyao plant in China, workers are allowed to go home once or twice a year. Also at the factory shown in China, workers had no safety glasses on or glass resistant gloves. Seeing this really had me wondering what else goes on in factories across China. The lack of regulations isn’t the only shocking part of “American Factory.”
In the second half of the film, Bognar and Reichert decided to showcase the fight between workers unionizing at the Moraine plant and the resistance of management. Both sides of the argument are shown and while the directors slanted towards the pro-union side, they do a great job at getting viewers to understand why the executives at Fuyao Glass America are frustrated with unions. A quote that best summarizes the management of Fuyao comes from the safety director of Fuyao, John Crane. “Everybody at every level will say that we (Fuyao) really, really want to be safe. But safety doesn’t pay the bills,” Crane said.
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I couldn’t be happier that Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar, and all of the incredible people behind #AmericanFactory have been nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar. What Julia and Steve capture on film is at times painful, at times exhilarating, but always thoughtful and always real—exactly the kind of story Barack and I wanted to lift up with Higher Ground Productions. I hope you’ll see for yourself by checking it out on @Netflix.
The shining moment of “American Factory” comes from the questions it raises. How should factory owners treat workers fairly while also making a profit? What role should unions play when a new factory opens? When an international company opens a plant in America, how should they adapt to American culture while also maintaining their own? The resolutions to these questions may take longer to solve than the runtime of the film, but “American Factory” is asking questions that politicians avoid addressing.
Since its release at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, “American Factory” won the Director’s Guild of America award for best documentary and it was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary. It was also the first film produced by Higher Ground Productions, a company run by former president and former first lady Barack and Michelle Obama.
The one gripe I had with this film is that the pacing is slower compared to other documentaries. However, the film’s pace is overshadowed by Chad Cannon’s fantastic score. It never overrides the importance of any scene and it nicely complements the film’s tone.
If you are curious to see the inner workings of factory life and the ripple effects it has on workers, “American Factory” is your film. It will leave you thinking about the state of American jobs long after the credits roll.
Ian Ward is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.