American Factory (2019) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
76 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Absolutely fascinating film
kpurch21 August 2019
I never thought a documentary on an American manufacturing plant would be so interesting. I'm a Canadian and I still consider this a must-watch. Extremely interesting insight into the world of manufacturing in small-town USA as well as the cultural differences between the USA and China. The whole trip to the China factory seems surreal. Unfortunately this film's ratings might get turfed by certain political interests that would rather have this stuff swept under the rug.
106 out of 120 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
laikem25 August 2019
Fuyao reminded Americans of what *real* capitalism is like.
55 out of 61 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Surprisingly even-handed examination at factory work in America, and China
nuv-swdcarc22 August 2019
Don't let the trolls fool you...this is NOT a Roger & Me-style documentary hit piece, its a surprisingly fair look at the complex nature of how the manufacturing industry works in the 21st Century, here in America and in China, and how both cultures are experiencing upheaval in the interest of progress.
54 out of 61 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
two sides of failure
ferguson-622 August 2019
Greetings again from the darkness. In December 2008, General Motors shut down their truck plant in Dayton, Ohio, putting approximately 2000 employees out of work. Six years later, Chairman Cao Dewang, the founder of Fuyao Glass, invested millions to turn the shell of the plant into a retro-fitted factory and the first U.S. operation for his company - a company he claims owns 70% of the auto glass market. In doing so, the factory hired approximately 1000 locals, many of whom had not had consistent work since the GM plant closed years prior.

Co-directors Steven Bognar and Julie Reichert share an Oscar nomination (she has 3 total) for their 2009 documentary short, THE LAST TRUCK: CLOSING OF A GM PLANT. This time out, they have impressive access to a remarkable situation: a successful Chinese company opening a factory in the United States, and attempting to merge two distinctly different cultures. We hear much these days about globalization, and by the end of the film, you'll likely be re-defining the word.

This unique business model came with good intentions on both sides. The differences that start out as kind of funny and well-intentioned turn into hurdles that are nearly impossible to manage. Fuyao ships many workers from China to Dayton for the training of U.S. workers. These 'temporary' transplants must spend two years away from their family as they try to make sense of an unfamiliar land far different from home. Workshops are held for the Chinese workers as they are lectured on what makes Americans different ... they don't work as hard, they don't dress well, they talk too much on the job, they won't work overtime, etc. The Chinese blatantly state that they are superior to American workers - a point that's difficult to argue against when it comes to dedication, quality, and efficiency. We soon learn there is more to the picture.

U.S. labor and safety laws exist for a reason, and the Chinese company neither understands these, nor is very willing to abide by them. Additionally, since this is the 'rust belt', the shadow of unionization hovers from day one. While China's Workers' Union functions in sync with companies, U.S. labor unions are regularly in conflict with companies here. When the U.S. supervisors make a training and observation trip to China to see the Fuyao factory, the differences become even more obvious. The mostly overweight Americans show up casual - one even in a JAWS t-shirt - while the lean and fit Chinese are all in fine suits and ties. Morning shift routines are also contrasted to point out the gaps in discipline and attention to details.

What the filmmakers do best is allow us to see both sides of the issue. Surely the right thing to do is obvious when it comes to safety, and when Chairman Cao says the real purpose in life is one's work, well, we realize these two cultures are farther apart than the 7000 miles that separate them. It's a fair look at both sides, but for those who say U.S. companies are too focused on profit, they'll likely be surprised to learn that Chinese factory workers typically get 1 or 2 days off from work each month! As one of the dismissed American managers states, you can't spell Fuyao with "fu". The film seems to present a debate with lines drawn via citizenship and culture, and the contrast might be more relevant today than ever before.
65 out of 75 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
China is Next
ddmcd-3425031 July 2019
Just saw this at Traverse City Film Festival. Does not sugarcoat the rust belt problem. The Chinese came to the US hoping to recharge a shuttered GM factory to build glass for autos and trucks. In return for hiring chronically unemployed in the Dayton area, they hoped that workers would participate despite low wages and unsafe working conditions given the lack of other job opportunities. The culture clash was nontrivial. Bottom line: all manufacturing jobs are threatened by automation, not just those currently held by Americans. Some cultures are willing to accept the pressure to produce, while others resist.
93 out of 111 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
This is a MUST-SEE for everyone!
nrau22 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Worth noting is that this is NOT a political editorial. The Obamas were NOT involved in the making of this documentary. The filmmakers have presented the subject matter completely objectively. I found myself empathizing with both American and Chinese workers and managers - many of whom had conflicting viewpoints. There are no easy answers offered, and unfortunately there's not really a "happy" ending here; struggles continue, and automation continues to replace workers. Even if there's no real resolution to the situation, this is a must-see documentary. It will make you think, it will give you insight into another culture's values, and moreover it will most likely make you appreciate your own life just a bit more.
67 out of 80 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A thought-provoking documentary that is very well-done
snadolsky25 August 2019
The Americans and Chinese shown in the movie "American Factory" represent a segment in the vast societies of the US and China. That is, the movie tells a story mostly about the workers in the American and Chinese manufacturing sectors, about the mindset of a businessman from China who have built manufacturing factories, and about the managers who operate the factories. These characters are not representative of many businessmen, management, and employees in other sectors in the US and China, nor do they reflect the sweeping social, political, and cultural diversity in both countries.

While it is great to see the discussions about the economic and culture-related issues, such as:

  • How much of FGA workers' 50% wage-drop in Ohio is due to the emergence of technology and how much due to globalization?

  • how come the FGA workers in Ohio and in China have such different values and cultures;

  • how the workers in China are not individualistic, and they seem ok to work 12 hours daily and only visit their family once per year, and sync their every step to the corporate choreography;

  • what the labor union's role should or should not be;

  • how to view the businessman/the Chairman's life's shrine being "just work";

  • how robots are replacing humans in doing repetitive jobs;

the bigger questions at the society and humanity level beg for deeper discussions, such as:

  • Who are these workers on the manufacturing floors in Ohio and in China?

  • Should corporations be held accountable for the long-term welfare of the employees and the community, other than the profitability interest of its shareholders?

  • What is the right society that we all should aim at in the near future, as the emerging robotic technologies are projected to replace over 375 million jobs globally within the next 10-15 years?

The workers on the manufacturing floors in the US and China are someone's mom/dad/daughter/son, and they are part of our fellow earthlings, and what they want is similar to what all human beings want: to provide for their family, and many of them did not and do not have much choice which put them where they were and where they are. Everyone deserves a fair chance to start with their life, and deserves a life with basic dignity and with basic needs met.

Then how do we build a society that gives a fair chance to all for a decent life with dignity along their life journey on earth?

In today's fast-evolving technology-driven society where robots are replacing humans for better efficiency and profitability, corporations are operated to optimize profit without adequate regulations that hold them accountable for the long-term welfare of employees and the community/society. How could we enhance and improve our regulations to avoid a dystopia society where hundreds of millions of humans will end up having no access to resources or fair opportunities to provide for a decent life or for their family?

As the clashes continue to escalate among major economic powers for gains to one's own country, we all owe to ourselves and our children a better/safer/healthier/more efficient future by finding a solution for countries/ethnic groups/religious groups to co-exist in peace, to collaborate instead of confrontation, to progress toward a better society that provide basic education and a fair chance to everyone, treat each other with decency, dignity, respect, mutual understanding, and love one another who all dwell on earth as all Gods ask of their believers.

The critical question is: can we, or are we, the so-called most intelligent species on earth, capable to set ourselves to the right pathway before too late when we may end up destroying the good life and potentially the entire earth that we live on?
26 out of 29 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A most entertaining yet informative documentary
Sporkstera6 September 2019
Simply put, I'm blown away by this film. I'm a progressive, sure, but have grown disillusioned with Obama LONG ago, and I must say that I was reluctant at first to even give it a shot based on the fact that it was produced by the Obamas. After a recommendation from a friend, I decided to bite the bullet. The result is that I'm kind of shattered. I have so many more factual questions, but learned so much, and was exposed to so many aspects of different cultures... (Should it matter, I'm a city-dwelling Canadian, for whom US policy is arguably as important as my own country's policies)... I'm also left with actual philosophical questions. Was any of it good? Was it bad? which parts? Chinese culture in their factories scared the crap out of me, but what does that mean? What does it mean about me, as well? It took me 4 hours to watch this 1h50m documentary because I kept stopping to write down thoughts and ask random questions to close friends. Not that it 'should' matter for a film that aims to inform, but the filming and DEFINITELY the soundtrack made the whole experience joyful in general. There's a lot to be said for an informative documentary that can keep people's attention, and this just became one of my favourites. I can recommend it without fear that people will just move on after 10 minutes. And I never felt that the documentary aspect was sacrificed. Highly, highly recommend it.
10 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Interesting and Engaging
u-emoli21 August 2019
Very interesting and well put together documentary. The contrast between the Chinese and the American cultures is what makes this documentary worth watching. We can all definitely learn something from China.
45 out of 59 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Some Extra thoughts about this Documentary
lolloo_g23 August 2019
As someone who grow up in China, and have working experience in a Chinese factory. I think I can provide some extra Chinese prospective to this Movie.

The factory workers in the movie is no longer the average Chinese experience. Chinese middle class now bigger than the entire population of US, and you cannot became a middle class just by doing a entrance level job in a factory.

Factory workers can became middle class just like anywhere else in the world, one needs to out work or out perform their piers. With promotion, comes easier work, more flexible timetable and better pay.

Second, Chinese put all their faith on the next generation. In China, if you don't want to just be a factory worker, you need to study hard, get into a good University and study a promising major. One of the bigger difference I felt in America, is that, people always talking about what a great time they had in College. Which is weird, because there is already a lot of job hunter pressure when you study in a Chinese University.

Third, there is a strong start-up culture in China. Besides Silicon Valley, Americans seems to forget they can just start their own business. In the documentary, one pro-union speaker says his daughter is making more money than him doing nails. If he really thinks nail salon is an easy job and he would be better at it, why doesn't he just open his own nail salon. That is what a under-appreciated Chinese would do.

In conclusion, what American workers are experiencing is nothing more than just good old capitalism. China did once believed in Socialism and Communism, but every western country seems to reject the idea and their people believe they worth more than what the society can measure. So today, when China piratically abandoned Communism, western country needs to step up their Capitalism, or else they will loss the game. The game of prosperity. (And this is not a threat. From the bottom of my heart, I hopes Americans can continue to be rich and free. After all, I am living in America now)
61 out of 83 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Anyone concerned about the effects on real people of globalization should see this film
Mengedegna23 August 2019
This film is an extraordinary achievement. With footage going back over the years, the directors have pieced together the saga of the establishment of a Chinese-run industrial operation in Dayton on the site of a much-lamented closed GM plant, illustrating, with total objectivity, the contradictions that ensue from the imposition of one national worldview upon another in a dynamic that it never a clash of equals. The impatience and contempt of the Chinese investors toward their U.S. workforce and the consequent cultural conflicts are highlighted to devastating effect, illustrated by what American viewers will find to be an uncomfortable dissection of their own culture, in all its fatuous self-indulgence, by amazing footage of lectures on the subject by Chinese cross-cultural consultants as they lecture Chinese workers and supervisors sent to Dayton to show Americans in how things should be done.

At the Q&A at the premiere at IFC Center, co-director Julia Reichert was at pains to stress that the film was never meant to be polemical, that this was an effort to immerse and learn. While some of the silllier aspects of both cultures, (but especially the regimented and self-congratulatory aspects of the Chinese). come through with particular acuity, you can't help buy muse on how Americans have acted with equal tin-earedness and cultural arrogance around the world, over many more decades than the Chinese have been at this game.

At the same time, America's neediness of manufacturing jobs, even if they don't pay a living wage, and the ways that so many of what we would normally consider our core values go out the window to accommodate anyone who will invest in them, come through particularly clearly. This all comes together in a fight over the establishment of a union that would protect workers' rights and uphold our eroding safety and environmental standards that is the vivid core of the movie.

A final note: This film has an extraordinarily compelling musical score by someone names Chad Cannon that propels and highlights the narrative and is amazingly effective on its own terms. Although the idiom is different, Cannon's score does for this film much of what Philip Glass's have done over the years for the films of Errol Morris, and that is high praise indeed.
20 out of 25 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Haunting Cross-Section of American Manufacturing
bnusenow22 August 2019
"American Factory" shows the great divide between American and Chinese blue collar work culture. The final scene in which the chairman gladly receives news that workers are being replaced by machines is a haunting forecast for America's manufacturing future (hint: the one we are familiar with won't be around for much longer). Business can be a brutal game, and blue collar workers' expendability is a new reality in the US.
19 out of 26 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Nice Follow Up to The Last Truck
lhartranft-6655421 August 2019
A follow-up to the movie The Last Truck; a thought-provoking documentary, looking at the cultural differences between Chinese management and American workers at a Dayton, Ohio manufacturing plant.
20 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Now that's a documentary
brian-haverty1 September 2019
So refreshing to see a documentary without a hidden (or, these days, not-so-hidden) agenda. Fascinating!
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Great engaging documentary
robertvictoriasd22 August 2019
Very well done, highly recommend watching. The story gives great insight into the current status of manufacturing in the US.
18 out of 26 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Very exciting movie
skyteamboss27 August 2019
As a Chinese, I must say, thank you, the two directors, and the Obamas, and Netflix, you are so great!

I have no intention of standing on a certain position to evaluate the pros and cons of these two methods.

But there is no doubt that this video has also triggered the thinking of many Chinese including me. The maintenance of workers' rights and the importance of human rights are undoubtedly commendable.

This video has been watched by millions of people in China (perhaps pirated), and there is a lively discussion about which party (boss or staff) is doing well.

Which will help us improve the working environment and human rights in our country.

Finally, I have to say that freedom is very important, but diligence and restraint are equally important. I hope that our cultures can communicate together, enhance human rights, improve the environment, enhance human wealth and create a better home.

BTW, Hong Kong is part of China, and many videos/news released by HongKong destroyers/Western Medias are not real.
14 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Sad and ironic
xuezhuyingji3 September 2019
Warning: Spoilers
A Chinese billionaire is showing America what true capitalism and exploitation look like
9 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
a very sad story
wn-yt22 August 2019
Sweatshop or unemployment, that's not a fair choice. There's a reason why Andrew Yang got so many supporters.
26 out of 44 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Most important documentary of the year - watch this now
brdy72422 August 2019
Produced by the prescient Obamas and directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, this documentary takes you inside the changes over the past decade in an Ohio plant purchased by a Chinese billionaire. It shows how their jobs are being eliminated by oppressive management and robots.

This is Obama, Bognar, and Reichert's warning to the US - we must do something about automation, especially as it pertains to the manufacturing industry, and we have to act fast. The only presidential candidate talking about automation in the same way as this documentary is Yang, and I think we would do well to listen.
15 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Volumes have been spoken
dannypetty-7331622 August 2019
A brilliant insight into the differences between working environments, staff expectations, rights and protections, USA vs China. It delves into the Chinese psyche to understand how the government dominates the workplace in contrast to America where the culture and freedom of expression are everything ... and what happens when you mix the two ideals together. The Chinese chairman and a team of his chinese workers work with the newly employed Americans at a Chinese-backed factory in Ohio. This shines the light on management approaches and opinions of workers unions, amongst other things and the different approaches both countries adopt as they try to work as one in the era of globalisation regardless of different outlooks and priorities.
15 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Thought-provoking and Interesting!
codysmalley23 August 2019
I really enjoyed the varied perspectives of the people they interviewed, followed, and showed. The cinematography was brilliant and was brilliant compared to cheaper cameras and smaller budget production. It touches on past, present, and future issues.

I think the participants show themselves how they are perceived moreso than the directors guiding you how to perceive the subjects. Even disagreeable people also have moments where you empathize.

The negative comments on here have nothing to do with the film's content; just partisan inability to be non-partisan because Obama is tied to the project's production.
9 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An incomplete story
alexdarkstrider30 August 2019
A documentary funded by the Obama family, it made me a little skeptical at first, but after watching the entire movie, i have to admit the producers tried their best to present the stories from both side albeit being supported by an obviously unneutral funding.

The most interesting thing is the contrast between how a an entrepreneur from (socialist) China preaches the purest form of capitalism and how a small group of American workers tried to enforce worker's union, a very socialist creation long hated by past American industrialists.

Why is this incomplete?

Because the ending makes it look like FUGA (Fuyao Glass America) was going to fail.

In reality, FUGA has become a very successful company. Without UAW interference and after firing all the troublemakers, FUGA hired a lot of young people, and turned to a profit, and contributing huge amount of taxes to support America.

I dont want to guess the intention behind why the documentary tried to shed negative lights on FUGA and didn't interview the majority of voters who voted against UAW, but it makes viewers like me wonder why do they paint a negative tone on a company that is reviving the Rust Belt while all other American companies are retreating?
10 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Great documentary, but it made me angry
termind24 August 2019
This documentary should be called "Chinese billionaire decides to bring his slave labor factory to an economically depressed American city." There is a lady that says how she was making $29 an hour with GM and now she makes $12 at Fuyao and struggles to support her children. It also shows how easily American managers are bought with a bit higher pay and how willing they are to throw their own under the bus. These sellouts call American workers lazy, suggesting to the Chinese how the mouths of the American workers should be taped so they don't talk at work and one even jokingly saying how a senator who supports a union should be killed. It's sickening to see a multi-billionaire get scared over talks of a union, fair pay and safety laws. Basically, the worker struggle of the past century is gone in America and that's not only worrisome, but very sad as well. Honestly, the documentary is very thought-provoking and makes you very worried about the future of the ever-globalizing world.
23 out of 42 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Wow shows how Lazy Americans really are!
scottcook-0557721 August 2019
Obama had nothing to do with your economic problems so stop complaining. Manufacturing is dying so move, learn a new job, make effort! No President is here to guarantee you work that's is on you. Look at how efficient and hard working the Chinese are compared to us. We look like a joke to them. I'm not saying we should work twelve hour days but you can see in the video how lazy these American workers are! They need a pat on the back to reassure them they are doing a good job. Complaining about pay?!? Then go find another job and if there isn't one then make this one work. I can't stand complainers I like doors. All of these's working accepted the job knowing the pay, excluding the daft issues. If you didn't like the pay then or now you shouldn't have accepted the job. I can see how much trouble this country is in just from this one video and it has nothing to do with China.
43 out of 87 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Jackie Chan VS Chris Tucker
owjan26 August 2019
I live in Sydney Australia and can %100 confirm that what is happening is true and terrifying. Theses fat Australians and Americans are used to nice life, working 38 hours per week, having union backing them up, sick leaves and annual leaves one after another while Chinese people never could afford it. Rich Chinese bring their money to Australia, open businesses and run it by Chinese rules while poor Chinese here work 24/7 for minimum wage, flat rate. It is terrifying that getting a job in the country with only 25 million population is getting harder and harder. Thx god I am not in America and No way going to America but feel very sad for middle class people which are gradually are about to disappear...........
8 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed