The documentary on Netflix tells a complicated tale of international business, culture and factories in America. It’s about a Chinese company buying a an American factory that closed years prior, leaving thousands without jobs in Dayton, Ohio.
The Americans are set as the incompetent, slow, inefficient workers. They want breaks and they want workplace safety. The Chinese perform better, but are less concerned with safety and prioritize efficiency over comfort. While their work is strong, many of them are far away from their hometowns and never see their children because they work 12 hours per day and only get a few days off each month.
There’s a subtle the film takes that everyone looks stupid while they do this metaphorical dance of trying to understand each other. They repeatedly show small, throwaway clips that show how awkward the whole situation is. Whether it’s the Americans wearing strange attire in their visit to China, or the Chinese struggling to manage minor conflicts with the American workers.
While the last few frames of the movie mention the prospects of automation and the coming disruption in manufacturing, the film is really about culture and business. Like a Rorschach test, what you see in American Factory says much more about you than the film itself.
It’s a movie full of juxtaposition, open interpretations and fodder for discussion. Watch it with a friend and see where the conversation goes.