MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
It seemed like a big win for Dayton, Ohio in 2014 when Fuyao, a Chinese manufacturer of automobile glass, decided to locate in Moraine Assembly, a shuttered former GM truck factory. The plan was to hire 2,000 American workers who would labor alongside the 200 Chinese who would guide the retraining. Some of the new hires would be former GM employees who were still living in the Dayton area and were familiar with the plant.
Directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert documented the GM closing in the 2009 Academy Award nominated short “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” (streaming on HBO GO and HBO NOW). Somehow the couple persuaded Fuyao to let them document this transition, giving them access to meetings and conversations with Fuyao leadership, American workers, and the cross-cultural go-betweens hired to work out the kinks in the process.
It’s fascinating stuff. Things get off to a rather awkward start when Senator Sherrod Brown attends the inaugural ceremony and makes an impassioned plea for unionization. His comments evoke an obscenity from Chinese leadership.
The filmmakers show both sides trying to understand one another, but there are obvious obstacles ahead. Chinese factories have their employees living in factory-owned dormitories close to work, while American workers return to their homes (and the subsequent mortgage payments). The wages seem fair to the Chinese and minimal to the Americans. The Chinese are disappointed with the underperforming Americans. The Americans are shocked by the disregard for environmental (and worker) safety. It’s only a matter of time before there are efforts to unionize the plant with the United Auto Workers.
The film shows Cao Dewang, the Chinese billionaire and owner of Fuyao, make multiple trips back and forth from China to try to sort things out. There are disgruntled workers from both sides venting their frustration about the process and strategizing about next steps.
American Factory refuses to push a political agenda, choosing to observe and record everyone fairly. Jeff Liu, chief executive of Fuyao Glass America, has recently claimed that some of the English translations of his words were misleading. But the filmmakers claim that Liu said nothing when he watched the film prior to its premiere in Dayton. They also hired several translators – working independently – to obtain the most accurate interpretations.
I hope that everyone who reads this review (and has a Netflix subscription) will take the time to view American Factory. This is an Ohio story, but it is also a universal story: of understanding one another, of speaking up for one another, and the many small steps that need to be taken to walk across the room. Every time of conflict is also an opportunity for understanding. As we all try to make sense of our global village, American Factory is a wakeup call, reminding us that every cross-cultural journey is harder work than we might choose, but perhaps the most essential work of all.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A sober and thoughtful observation on the things that keep cultures apart and the things that might bring us all together.
One pitchfork: Occasional casual swearing.
Do you have comments about this movie or movie review? E-mail your comments. (Your name and UM affiliation must be supplied in order for your comments to be posted.)
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
COMMENTS! Do you have comments about this movie or movie review?
E-mail comments. (Comments will be posted to our web site.)
The East Ohio Conference Office:
located in North Canton, OH,
near Akron-Canton Airport.
8800 Cleveland Ave. NW
North Canton, OH 44720
Local: (330) 499-3972
Toll Free: (800) 831-3972
Fax: (330) 499-3279
Monday through Friday
8:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
© EAST OHIO CONFERENCE. All Rights Reserved.