The first documentary produced by Barack and Michelle Obama for Netflix debuted on Wednesday. Called "American Factory," it explores what befell workers of an Ohio General Motors plant that closed following the 2008 financial crisis and was later bought by a Chinese company.
Directed by veteran independent filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, the film looks at the economic and personal toll that the closure, which resulted in the loss of 2,000 jobs, had on residents of Moraine, Ohio, and at what happened after the facility was acquired by a Chinese investor in 2014. The factory was reopened as Fuyao Glass, an auto-glass manufacturer that promised the return of jobs to the community.
"A good story gives you the chance to better understand someone else's life," Mr. Obama said Wednesday in a tweet. "It can help you find common ground. And it's why Michelle and I were drawn to Higher Ground's first film, 'American Factory.'"
As the documentary shows, that transition has been anything but smooth. Although the community initially greets the new ownership and its promise of thousands of new jobs with excitement, differences in work culture and business practices between American and Chinese workers quickly emerge. Adding to the challenge is a push to organize the factory's workforce by the United Automobile Workers.
"American Factory" also chronicles the impact of globalization on working-class employees, including rising income inequality, and the mass transfer of jobs to nations overseas were wages are lower.
The clashing management styles and ways of doing business have Chinese executives in the film concluding that American workers are "not efficient," deepening divides within the Ohio plant.
The film is the first in a series of original releases planned by the Obamas' new production company, Higher Ground, for Netflix under a multi-year deal with the streaming company. According to the Television Business International, Higher Ground will also produce biopic of Frederick Douglass, a series by author and journalist Michael Lewis on government, and a series on nutrition for preschool-aged children.
In a statement issued by Netflix last year, the Obamas said they "hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world."