American Factory tells its story in spurts. However, it mostly concentrates on a four year period starting in 2014. That’s when a Chinese car glass manufacturer, Fuyao, came in. They opened a factory at the site of a former GM plant in Dayton, Ohio. This would, at first, be a good change for the workers in Ohio. Ones who have struggles to get jobs ever since the 2008 recession happened.
Unfortunately, what takes place is a struggle between those workers and their corporate level bosses. It’s a conflict that documentaries have shown since the 70s. Generations later, the descendants of good old American workers are still fighting for their rights. But the enemy is different and more nebulous because corporations today have a more global reach.
American Factory dives head first into this globalized conflict. There’s no narration until the fifteen minute mark. First, the American workers speak about their mixed emotions about finally getting jobs. Then we hear from the Chinese workers training the Americans. It’s like a Greek chorus speaking one after the other, never together, despite their attempts to understand each other.
This is a merciless documentary, for better or for worse. It shows Chinese bosses briefing the trainees about American culture, making backhanded compliments about the latter’s preference towards laxity. It also shows the stringent, propaganda-based Chinese culture. The movie’s attempts to shock its audience is slightly obvious. The same goes for the musical cues going off when we see both groups.
Nonetheless, it’s a film with subjects that deserve both the audience’s mockery as well as its compassion. This doc spends a few intermittent minutes with its many subjects, but that’s all we need to feel for them. This has something for everyone, especially for struggling working class people, no matter who their bosses may be.