American Factory

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
American Factory Movie Poster Image
Engaging doc about Chinese firm opening U.S. plant; cursing.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 115 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Promotes understanding of the lives of people other than ourselves. Reflects upon successes and difficulties of global business partnerships (i.e., culture clash, expectations vs realities). Reveals that given technological advances, by the year 2030, 375 million workers will be replaced by automation; comments upon the necessity to prepare for that eventuality.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite acute differences between societal groups, solid relationships can be created with openness, acceptance, and patience. Brings to light profound disparity of values, lifestyle, and attitudes in American and Chinese workers.

Violence
Sex
Language

A few curses: "s--t," "hell," "f--k."

Consumerism

Fuyao Auto Glass, Dayton, Ohio is the subject of this documentary.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Wine is served in one scene. A few characters smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that American Factory is a documentary that recounts the initial efforts of a successful Chinese manufacturer -- Fuyao Auto Glass -- to bring its business to the U.S., hiring and training more than a thousand American workers in the process. Expectations are high in 2015, when Cho Tak Wong (aka "Cao), Fuyao's president, comes to Dayton, Ohio and takes over a deserted General Motors plant to expand and globalize his company. Without commentary, documentary filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert let the characters and situations speak for themselves, following the participants from both countries as they negotiate challenging situations. There are a very few curses heard ("s--t," "hell," and "f--k"). English subtitles are used when conversations are heard in Chinese. 

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What's the story?

The story told in AMERICAN FACTORY begins in 2008, when General Motors closed its factory in Dayton, Ohio and 10,000 jobs were lost. The film begins in 2015, when China's Fuyau Auto Glass, which makes glass for autos and trucks, opened a U.S. plant in that same abandoned factory and hired more than a thousand American workers, many of whom had never recovered from the loss of their GM jobs. It was to be an extraordinary venture -- of immense value to the workers, the community, and to the Chinese corporation who saw the move as a fruitful enterprise. But, predictably, growing pains set in almost immediately. Though hundreds of Chinese workers were brought in to help with the transition, cultural clashes were hard to overcome. The prospect of the union was daunting to Fuyau's Chairman Cao, and that escalating conflict is part of the story as well.  

Is it any good?

Filmmakers Bognar and Reichert clearly feel that a story is best told by the people involved, and that's the emphasis here in this telling account of an effort to make a global business venture work. Their access to those involved is extraordinary, and they make the most of it. At Fuyau Auto Glass in its earliest years there was a profound difference in the work ethic of its two participating cultures. The Chinese folks depicted in American Factory find purpose and worth in their work; it appears to be the cornerstone of their lives. The Americans, however, value family and personal time most. Work is simply work -- to be done efficiently and well in a decent, safe environment. The filmmakers nicely capture the heart of that disparity.

Though there's no obvious editorializing, viewers may still come away with a bias toward the Americans. How representative this is of other similar undertakings is an unknown. Note: this is the first film under the auspices of Higher Ground Productions, the company headed by Barack and Michelle Obama. It's a solid, worthwhile beginning, best for mature teens.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the purposes of documentaries: to entertain, inform, inspire, and persuade. Which category(ies) best describe American Factory? What is your takeaway from the movie? 

  • Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert have stated that in making a documentary, "We don't go in with an idea of what it's supposed to be about -- we're finding out!" What do they mean by that statement? How does it relate to American Factory?

  • Find out what the term "globalization" means? How does this film provide a vivid and important example of that principle?

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