otherwise, they kick you.”
That was one of the memorable lines from the documentary American Factory.
I found out about the movie from one of my students, who told me that after reading one of the articles for class she thought of this film.
American Factory (美国工厂; 美國工廠) is a 2019 American documentary film directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, about Chinese company Fuyao’s factory in Moraine, a city near Dayton, Ohio, that occupies Moraine Assembly, a shuttered General Motors plant. The film had its festival premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It is distributed by Netflix and is the first film produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground Productions. It won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 96% based on reviews from 83 critics, with an average of 8.39/10. The site’s consensus reads: “American Factory takes a thoughtful – and troubling – look at the dynamic between workers and employers in the 21st-century globalized economy. (Wikipedia)
And here’s what NPR had to say: American Factory is only nominally a film about America. The part that is astonishing about American Factory is seeing everything about the United States through the eyes of Chinese factory workers and managers arriving to reopen and restaff a plant in the rust belt. American Factory is the view we never get. Americans know how they feel about competing with China. But we don’t know how China feels about working with America.
I think the movie did an outstanding job of offering a balanced perspective of what the situation at the factory was like from a variety of viewpoints – American workers, Chinese workers, American executives, Chinse executives, pro-union people, and anti-union people. The dialogue is refreshingly unfiltered.
Besides the line shown in the title of this post, there were a couple of other memorable ones:
- “One mountain cannot hold two tigers.”
- “The point of living is to work.”
And there was this eye-opening prediction made near the end of the movie:
“Up to 375 million people globally will have to find entirely new kinds of jobs by 2030 because of automation.”
That is a lot of people – it is more than the population of the U.S.
What will those jobs be? How will people gain the skills needed for such jobs?
As soon as I saw that quote, one of the first thoughts that came into my mind was Universal Basic Income (UBI). I’m a fan of UBI because of situations just like this. Where should all the benefits of automation go? To me, some of those benefits should go to the workers who have been displaced, as well as society in general. Hasn’t that been the promise of automation and technology all along, that it would free people up to pursue their passions?
A highlight of the film for me was after it was over, watching a 10-minute interview between the Obamas and the two directors of the film.
I’d recommend American Factory is you want to get a glimpse of what the future may look like, one where Chinese and Americans work side-by-side, and what problems and opportunities such a future holds.