A Netflix documentary American Factory brings a Chinese company’s U.S. factory, particularly its founder Cao Dewang, into the spotlight. The Fuyao chairman has been criticized for his "arrogance" and his negative attitude toward unions.
While most eyes are on the contradictions portrayed in the film and the first production by Barack and Michelle Obama's company, they forget one point: the guts it took for this Chinese company to bare all.
The documentary's directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert said they appreciated the freedom they were given to film and even grew to admire Cao after working with him.
"Imagine an American company, big company like that, allowing two independent filmmakers with all their people for three years. Will that happen? Probably not," Reichet said.
Would such an "arrogant" man have allowed two directors from a foreign country film him and his factory for four long years and given them total freedom to record everything and anything they saw?
When the film was presented to Cao and his management team for the first time, most of the managers worried about the possible negative effects on the company. However, Cao thought they were overreacting.
"He had a real generosity of spirit about it. He didn't love everything in the film, obviously, but he was great about it," Bognar said.
Cao said the film is about what makes China prosperous, who Chinese workers really are and what the Chinese work ethic looks like.
"The film shows a process of understanding and communication and the way Fuyao builds trust with its employees," President of Fuyao Group North America Jeff Liu told Beijing Review.
"Our employees are realizing if we can do better than other suppliers, we will have more orders. In the two years after filming ended, our sales increased by 30 percent year on year and our profits doubled, which satisfies our clients and benefits our employees, whose compensation has continued to increase," Liu said.
Obama said the film gives people the chance to better understand someone else's life, while at the same time, Fuyao's U.S. factory offers a good case study for people to find common ground.
Fuyao relies on local workers to make a profit, while workers need jobs to survive. What's happening in Fuyao happens everywhere. If it's not cultural differences, there are regional differences or personality differences.
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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