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Netflix ‘American Factory’ Review: The Struggle Between Cultures For One American Dream

Although not the most eye-catching title in Netflix’s void of films, American Factory will leave you assuming the obvious—that it’s just a documentary about an American factory. It’s also one of those things where you’ll ask “Why would I want to know about the makings and technicalities of an American factory?”

The film opens with a Chinese couple (no, not American, despite the film’s moniker) having a casual conversation about the lack of America’s history in comparison to China whilst watching planes in the horizon taking off and landing from a nearby airbase.

The documentary centres around the closure of the General Motors Plant in Dayton, Ohio. The closure left behind an abandoned factory and with it, an opportunity for fresh Chinese investments. Rebranded as Fuyao Glass America, it re-opened in 2010 and provided Americans living within the vicinity with jobs they desperately needed to turn their lives around. The Chinese helped open the doors of opportunities and economic prowess so that locals could be one step closer to the elusive American dream. They insisted on keeping the American identity, while “melding two cultures together, the Chinese culture and the US culture” in order to make their organisation truly a global one.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and Fuyao Founder and Chairman Cao DeWant (with large scissors) cut the ribbon at the grand opening ceremony for Fuyao Glass America’s new factory in Dayton, Ohio from the film AMERICAN FACTORY

With the promise of new jobs and opportunities, a renewed sense of enthusiasm returned to many Americans who’ve been given a second chance to kickstart their lives again. The documentary illustrates the development of the relationship between the two cultures—from inviting the Chinese over to experience Thanksgiving dinner and of course, the typical American lifestyle: guns.

It all sounds like sugar, spice and everything nice until you stop to question – how far would you go to share a space with an outsider, let alone share the American dream that you’ve spent so long chasing?

Wong He (left) working with Kenny Taylor (Center) and Jarred Gibson (Right) in the furnace tempering area of the Fuyao factory in the Dayton, Ohio from the film AMERICAN FACTORY

Tensions unravel and the American employees soon find themselves fighting to keep their identity and their rights. What was once collaboration is now a confrontation. With the Chinese investors being unfamiliar with American work protocols, American employees slowly start fearing being laid off over such things as a prolonged medical absence, no matter how valid.

Singapore is the Asian version of America. We accommodate (sometimes even shamefully tolerate) the government’s decision for foreign talent. “Let them wash the windows, whilst we stay in our air-conditioned offices and enjoy the view behind them.”

From the film AMERICAN FACTORY

Yet when they are as accomplished as us, we see them as thieves. Thieves—loud-mouthed, rude, inconsiderate; the list goes on. We sigh when we visit a tourist attraction and there are throngs of them talking at the top of their voices. We blame them for not having access to more jobs because “the government prefers foreigners working in Singapore but won’t hire locals”.

So, with our disdain for foreign-talent and our multiple assumptions about them,  are we also slowly turning into an American Factory?

American Factory: Watch on Netflix


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