Oba­mas’ first Net­flix movie isn’t po­lit­i­cal

The Morning Call - - TOWN SQUARE - Clarence Page

Is any­one “shocked, shocked,” as the pre­fect in “Casablanca” might say, that some peo­ple are calling the first project to come out of Barack and Michelle Obama’s pro­duc­tion com­pany’s deal with Net­flix (gasp!) po­lit­i­cal?

Yet, that’s how some of the head­lines greeted the stream­ing of the doc­u­men­tary “Amer­i­can Fac­tory,” the first re­lease by the Oba­mas’ com­pany Higher Ground Pro­duc­tions in their deal an­nounced last year with Net­flix to pro­duce a slate of se­ries, movies and doc­u­men­taries.

“The Oba­mas’ First Big Anti-Trump State­ment of 2020,” roared a Politico head­line a day be­fore stream­ing be­gan Wed­nes­day.

“Oba­mas’ de­but Net­flix doc­u­men­tary slammed as ‘lefty pro­pa­ganda,’ an at­tack on Trump,” blared the Fox News web­site. It quoted such author­i­ties as Dan Gainor, vice pres­i­dent of the con­ser­va­tive Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter, who called the nearly two-hour film “lefty pro­pa­ganda” and a “hit job doc­u­men­tary on Trump,” even though the movie doesn’t even men­tion Pres­i­dent Trump’s name.

In this case, pol­i­tics is in the eye of the be­holder. The movie doesn’t men­tion Trump, but it does take a deep dive into one of Trump’s fa­vorite cam­paign themes, the dis­ap­pear­ance of fac­tory jobs across the in­dus­trial Mid­west.

“Amer­i­can Fac­tory,” which the Oba­mas’ com­pany picked up af­ter it de­buted at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, takes a deep dive into an ef­fort by Shanghai-based Fuyao Glass to re­vive a for­mer Gen­eral Mo­tors plant in Dayton, Ohio.

Yel­low Springs, Ohio, film­mak­ers Steven Bog­nar and Ju­lia Re­ichert, who doc­u­mented the plant’s clos­ing in their Os­car-nom­i­nated short “The Last Truck,” fol­lowed three years in the lives of the fac­tory’s work­ers and new own­ers, who hired more than 1,000 Amer­i­cans to work along­side and be trained by sev­eral hun­dred Chi­nese work­ers. The re­sult, as with many busi­nesses, is a mixed pic­ture of suc­cess and set­backs.

Af­ter the heart­break of los­ing the GM plant jobs, the new com­pany’s em­ploy­ees are ex­cited, at first.

But they soon find them­selves strug­gling to get by on less than half of their for­mer hourly pay.

We see Amer­i­can and Chi­nese em­ploy­ees de­velop new, heart­warm­ing friend­ships and work­ing part­ner­ships, but we also wit­ness clashes be­tween vastly dif­fer­ent so­cial and busi­ness cul­tures.

This story touched me per­son­ally. I was born in Dayton, grew up in nearby Mid­dle­town and be­gan my jour­nal­ism ca­reer cov­er­ing Dayton news as an in­tern for a lo­cal news­pa­per.

But things have changed, too much for the worse, in Ohio’s fac­tory towns, so much so that I was more shocked than I should have been by pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Trump’s vic­to­ries in the state and across other crit­i­cal in­dus­trial swing states — vic­to­ries that put him over the top in the Elec­toral Col­lege.

I re­visit my home­town re­gion with new eyes now. Back when I was work­ing my way through col­lege in a lo­cal steel mill, jobs were some­thing my class­mates and I al­most took for granted. If all else fails, young­sters would say, I can al­ways work at ... (fill in the blank with a lo­cal fac­tory that’s now gone or taken over by ro­bots).

Even in the 1960s and ’70s, it was com­mon wis­dom that Amer­i­can fac­tory jobs were dry­ing up amid in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion. I don’t think any­body ex­pected the col­lapse to come so fast.

“Amer­i­can Fac­tory” tries might­ily to avoid tak­ing sides or po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions and that’s only fair.

The col­lapse oc­curred un­der the pres­i­den­cies of both par­ties. Trump, whether by ac­ci­dent or de­sign, knew how to touch the right but­tons of out­rage in blue-col­lar and strug­gling mid­dle-class Ohio.

We all should want Amer­ica to do a bet­ter job of pro­vid­ing ways for Amer­i­cans to take care of their fam­i­lies.

One movie can’t pro­vide all of the an­swers, ei­ther, but “Amer­i­can Fac­tory” helps us to bet­ter un­der­stand the prob­lems.

Tri­bune Con­tent Agency

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