by Alex Hentschel
This year “American Factory” won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Its subject? A Chinese-owned glass manufacturing company which opened in Cedarville’s backyard.
“American Factory,” headed by filmmakers Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert and Jeff Reichert, was the first film produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground Productions.
The film follows the opening and first throes of production in the Dayton suburb of Moraine at a factory which makes glass for automobile windows. It is owned by the Chinese company Fuyao Glass Industry Group. Fuyao Glass America opened in 2014 in a plant closed by General Motors in 2008, and the beginning of the film shows workers overjoyed at this new large employment opportunity. Hopes fall fast, however, as wages are significantly lower, management ignores safety concerns, and workers are fired for attempting to unionize.
Dayton is a part of the Rust Belt, a region in America which declined in industrial production and suffered population decline and urban decay beginning in the 1980s and was exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis. Cities which once thrived as centers of innovation and production suffered as factories closed their doors, either moving overseas or automating more of their production.
Dayton, in particular, once thrived as a hub of innovation, boasting such inventions as the Wright Brothers’ first tested flight, the cash register and the electric car starter. In a Mercatus study titled “How the Gem City Lost Its Luster and How It Can Get It Back,” author Adam A. Millsap finds that home values, population and job availability has been on a steady decline in Dayton since 1980. Even so, NBC News reports that more than 13 percent of the employees in Montgomery County still work in manufacturing, and that Dayton does not run on a knowledge economy.
Enter Fuyao Glass America, promising thousands of jobs and a revitalization for Dayton. The plant does employ many American workers who lost their old jobs at the General Motors factory, which many are grateful for.
Though the film focuses on working class struggle, a major theme documented throughout the film is cultural struggles between the American workers and their Chinese overseers. Though it is a film about America, in many ways, it is a film about Chinese perceptions of America, told through both lenses.
In subtitles, one Chinese executive criticizes Americans for being “slow” and having “fat fingers,” as well as the fact that they constantly need “praise.” This strikes the American viewer as cruel