Many have argued that this year’s Academy Award for Best Documentary should have gone not to Steven Bognar’s and Julia Reichart’s American Factory, but the immensely powerful For Sama: directed by Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts. Both films feature larger-than-life conflicts that seek to test an unstoppable ruler, each with vastly different contexts. Comparing both films is akin to debating apples versus oranges. Despite rumours that American Factory’s win was ultimately politicized, it would be unfair not to give credit where due.
In American Factory, glass Chinese company Fuyao has branched out to the United States as a part of their brand’s global expansion. Founder Cao Dewang views the move as an opportunity to connect the cultures of both regions, hoping to gain a better bond in the workplace. However, Dewang’s aspirations are largely different from those of his American employees.
American Factory banks on the clash of its two cultures, focusing on the vast differences between American and Chinese work ethics. When directors Bognar and Reichart paid a visit to Fuyao’s China branch, they were surprised to learn that the average workload was far heavier than what Americans are used to. The Chinese labour force was obliged to work for seven days a week. Home visits taken once or twice a month were deemed a luxury.
The film’s final shot perfectly summarizes these differences, depicting workers walking in different directions, never to intersect. Beyond the themes of a diverse workforce, American Factory also seeks to examine the varying faces of capitalism.
American Factory can certainly be problematic, but it’s an outstanding critique of why the singularity is a far-fetched concept.