American Factory (2019)


Direction: Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
Country: USA

A Chinese factory in America operating the Chinese way with Americans on board. Would this be possible? This Netflix documentary, directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, shows how these opposite cultures clashed in 2013, when a former General Motors plant located in Dayton, Ohio, was turned into an auto glass factory ruled by the Chinese company Fuyao. Initially seen as a blessing that would make 2,000 local families retrieve their jobs, the Fuyao Glass America revealed considerable safety gaps in its operations and a fierce opposition to any labor union that would defend workers from exploitation and unfair treatment.

The company, led by multibillionaire Can Dewang, employs a team of American and Chinese workers, whose incompatibility in the work is flagrant. An inner tension is felt all around, with the Americans being accused of being lazy and called foreigners in their own land, while the Chinese are kept in control, gladly working long shifts and weekends. Also, the wages were cut down on more than a half when compared with what General Motors was paying. At that time, workers could have a decent life, but not anymore.


One of the most appalling sequences of the film shows a group of American supervisors visiting the Fuyong factory in China, in order to witness their gaudy ostentation, be brainwashed and learn their authoritative ways, meaning: military-like treatment, exhausting 12-hour shifts, and just one or two days off per month. Also curious is Cao's admitted dilemma: is he a contributor for the development or a criminal with no consideration for the environment?

There are no particular characters with whom I could really connect, but the film is globally demonstrative of how people let themselves be subjugated and enslaved due to fear of losing their jobs. They simply cease to stand up for their rights instead of remaining united to fight for the right thing.

Despite a slightly gradual decay as it progresses, the film is compelling and provocative, shedding light on the impacts of an abusive foreign investment.