I finally got around to watching the award-winning Netflix movie “American Factory” this week. I had read good reviews and heard good things from friends who had seen it. But for some reason, I had found myself hesitant to sit down and watch it.
I’m not entirely sure why — maybe because I could picture the cultural clashes that were going take place when a Chinese company, Fuyao Glass, opens an auto glass factory in Ohio and hired local workers, most of whom had been laid off by GM several years previous. I knew it would be difficult to watch. Spoiler: I was right!
Here’s the trailer: (if you are reading this post by email, go here to see the trailer.)
The movie is excellent, and I heartily recommend it.
That said, though, from the moment the film opened, I found myself wincing and my blood pressure rising because, after 20+ years working in China, I could see the nasty culture clashes (crashes?) that were in store for both the American workers and their new Chinese bosses. At times, it was almost painful to watch!
It was so very odd to see things that are so very Chinese being imported wholesale into the factory: the opening ceremonies with their stilted speeches; the preening owner and the grandiose and gaudy portraits of him that were hung everywhere; the (unsuccessful) attempts to get work teams to stand at attention at the beginning of each shift. It all seemed so out of place in a small city in Ohio.
I wish I could say it has a happy ending ( Americans like movies to have happy endings), but it doesn’t. Little is resolved, and people from both cultures bumble along hoping that eventually they will succeed, and maybe become friends along the way.
Unfortunately, sometimes (but not always), that’s what cross-cultural living is about.