Obamas' first Netflix deal film is an 'anti-Trump statement' highlighting the president's promise to revive the industrial heartland as it charts tough conditions in an Ohio glass factory and frustrations by Chinese bosses over Americans work ethics

Barack and Michelle Obama's first film under their multi-million dollar deal with Netflix takes aim at President Donald Trump's promises to revive the manufacturing industry in America's heartland by highlighting misery at a Midwestern factory reopened by Chinese bosses.  
American Factory, out August 21, tells the story of employees struggling to adjust to new leadership at a former General Motors plant in Moraine, Ohio, after it was reopened by Shanghai-based firm Fuyao Glass in 2015. 
In the movie the workers' excitement about landing the new gig seven years after the iconic GM plant closed its doors is quickly quashed by difficult working conditions, significantly lower pay and management that fires anyone who falls short of company standards and blocks attempts to unionize.  
Fuyao founder and chairman Cao Dewang gave the filmmakers extraordinary access to the plant and offered his own response to the workers' plight, saying that the American workers have been difficult for him to manage because they have a 'weak work ethic'. In the documentary Dewang says: 'American workers are not efficient. Output is low, I can't manage them.'
The critically-acclaimed film gained a whole new level of complexity after it caught the attention of the Obamas, whose production company Higher Ground acquired it following its debut at the Sundance Festival in January.  
The film is the Obamas' first project under the deal they made with Netflix to produce content that reflects their values.    
While American Factory never mentions Trump by name, analysts say it offers a biting criticism of the president's failure to grasp complex global economic forces as he promises to reinvigorate manufacturing in America. 
By bringing the film under the Higher Ground umbrella, the Obamas appear to be sending a message to Trump about the gravity of his promise. 

Oscar-nominated directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert began filming in 2008 when the iconic GM plant was shuttered and 10,000 workers were laid off. 
They returned in 2015 when Chinese billionaire Dewang - dubbed 'Chairman Cao' - swept in to open a Fuyao auto glass plant.  
The film charts the Midwestern rust belt community's journey from optimism at the giant plant's reopening - bringing back vital jobs - toward creeping anger and disillusionment as the new management imposed its strict, exhausting demands on workers, sacking those who don't comply.  
It sheds light on tensions between hundreds of laborers brought in from China and the many former GM employees.  

'They refer to us as the foreigners,' one downbeat employee says in the film.  
The compelling tale of challenges posed by what Bognar and Reichert call 'reverse globalization' struck a chord with the Obamas, who both call the Midwest home.   
'Mrs Obama said it resonated with her because her father had done an intense, hardworking job for decades just to provide for his family, and she felt the Midwesterness of the film in what she saw on screen,' Bognar told AFP.
Reichert said that Michelle, a Chicago native, 'felt her own family in the film'.
She added: 'I think the President felt there was a certain amount of policy issues and big broad globalization.'  
Politico writer Ted Johnson analyzed the political implications of the Obamas putting their name on the film in an article this week focusing on the indirect criticism of Trump.  
'[American Factory's] message is clear: Trump's promise to reinvigorate the industrial heartland is going to take a lot more than a campaign slogan,' Johnson wrote.
'There are no easy solutions. And if some manufacturing jobs do come back, they're going to look nothing like they used to. Americans will have to accept a new reality to stay competitive in the global marketplace—one that they might not like, and one that Trump doesn't acknowledge.' 
Barack Obama understands the challenge facing Trump better than anyone, having tried to revive the manufacturing industry himself during his time in the White House.  
Faced with repairing damage from the Great Recession, Obama championed bailouts for General Motors and Chrysler in an effort to save auto manufacturing jobs in the Midwest. 
He introduced a stimulus package that invested billions of dollars into green manufacturing projects but did not appear to generate significant job growth. 
During Obama's tenure the economy experienced a slow, steady rebound from the 2008 financial crisis but never reached previous levels.  
When Trump entered the presidential race, he put manufacturing at the center of his campaign, claiming that he was the only candidate who could jump-start the manufacturing industry and bring back jobs in areas of the industrial Midwest that had been hid hardest by globalization.   
As the 2020 election cycle kicks into gear, Trump is focusing in that same area once again. 
In 2016, his campaign speeches were laced with promises to turn the economy around fast. Today, he touts his record and promises voters that if they stick with him, the upswing will continue. 
To Trump's credit, the US job market is setting records for low unemployment and the economy has continued uninterrupted growth since he took office.  
However, a recent study from the Economic Innovation Group indicated that western and southern states have seen the majority of the job growth, while traditional hubs like the Midwest have seen little change.  
Furthermore, growth has slowed in 2019. In July, US manufacturing output fell 0.4 percent amid ongoing trade tensions between the Trump administration and China.  
A new survey Monday showed a big majority of economists expecting a downturn to hit by 2021 at the latest, according to a report from the National Association of Business Economics.
Trump isn't convinced, declaring Sunday: 'We're doing tremendously well. Our consumers are rich. I gave a tremendous tax cut and they're loaded up with money. I don't think we're having a recession.' 
American Factory highlights the reality that even when jobs do return, the requirements and atmosphere are still deeply affected by globalization. 
The battle for economic supremacy between the US and a rising China is perhaps the defining geopolitical story of the 21st century. 
The filmmakers set out to understand what that rivalry looks like on a human level, and Dewang made that possible by giving them sweeping access. The billionaire was as interested in bridging the cultural divide and showcasing Chinese capitalism as making a profit.
'The chairman's a maverick - he's very much his own person, an independent self-made business guy', said Bognar.
'He'd seen our earlier film and liked it, and so he took a chance on us', he added, referring to 2009's The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant.
In the new documentary's early scenes, genuine attempts by the US and Chinese workers to bond with their new colleagues, including fishing and shooting lessons and shared Thanksgiving dinners, appear to bear some fruit.
But as the new Chinese owners become alarmed by heavy financial losses, they fire the American middle managers and increasingly invoke their Chinese replacements' sense of nationalistic pride to spur harder work, leaving the workforce ever-more divided.
Despite promises, wages remain frozen far below those of the GM era, while workers' attempts to unionize and confront slipping safety standards are aggressively shut down from above. 
'The cultural chasm was wider than people anticipated,' said Bognar, noting that the new Chinese owners felt equally baffled and let down by the attitudes of US workers.
'To their credit, as the pressure mounted they did not kick us out, they certainly could have kicked us out at any point,' he added.
The film tells of how 11 complaints were filed with some claiming unsafe working conditions and unfair treatment.   
While the factory in Moraine, Ohio, is of symbolic significance due to its size and legacy, it is not unique - Chinese-owned factories are now abundant across the American South and Midwest.
Like Fuyao, many are housed in the same buildings formerly shut down by American bosses who shipped jobs overseas to Mexico and elsewhere.
'You're getting a slice of what globalization really looks like on a human level,' said Reichert, adding: 'I think the film leaves you with a sense of unease.'
Nobody has tapped into that disquiet better than Trump, whose 2016 victory was built on successes in Ohio and nearby Michigan and Wisconsin.
For Ohio-based Reichert and Bognar, who have spent years interviewing blue-collar workers, that result was no surprise.
'We saw that coming, being in Ohio -- the enthusiasm, the yard signs,' said Reichert. 'Hillary Clinton was not well liked.'
Along Interstate 75, through America's industrial heartland, there are no shortage of Chinese-owned firms like Fuyao. 
They are setting up shop in states such as Ohio and Michigan, key voter battlegrounds in November, where traditional manufacturing has been hollowed out - in many cases, by trade with China.   
Trump promised the region's laid-off workers they would get back their jobs. 
Earlier this year, another enormous GM factory in nearby Lordstown, Ohio, became the latest to close.
But in a strange quirk, even as Chinese investment in the US has plummeted by over 80 percent under Trump's tariff war, jobs like those provided by Fuyao have become an important lifeline. 

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