“Donkeys Liked to Be Touched in the Direction Their Hair Grows…

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.

*image from ASPCSpro


37 thoughts on ““Donkeys Liked to Be Touched in the Direction Their Hair Grows…

  1. Looks like a powerful and thought-provoking movie, Jim. I wasn’t aware that the Obamas were making movies. I was also interested to see you quoting NPR. I listen to the NPR podcast Hidden Brain occasionally. It is really interesting

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome. I wondered if I’d heard of it from you. I’m not sure where I heard of Hidden Brain but I find it’s worth a listen – always interesting topics.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. We so easily find reasons for not working together, that what can happen when we do cannot even survive as a fantasy. Certainly the melding and meshing of two very different cultures in a common pursuit is not absent of difficulties, but all such great endeavors have some hills to climb. What it does show is that we are more alike than different. A concept that seems so hard for us to accept. Well written post, Jim!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t know about this, but I don’t watch Netflix. I may have to subscribe now. I also didn’t know the Obama’s had a production company. I miss them in the White House! Great post, Jim! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this post. I think my husband would be very into watching this and I am curious as well. There needs to be more hours in a day, so I can watch the movies I want to, why still having time to binge watch Grey’s Anatomy. LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Same with cats. the cat scratched the wrong way is not a happy cat. And you are probably in for a nasty dose of claw and bite. And serve you right. There is the matter of personal pride to be considered.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow it’s sounds like an interesting documentary film, but also a bit creepy in a sense.
    The thing about the donkey got me thinking that maybe I’m part donkey since I hate to be touch against the direction my hair grows. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

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