Shots fired. That’s the take among reviewers of the Obamas’ first foray into TV production, which looks at the promise to America’s Rust Belt unfulfilled by the Trump administration.
American Factory, which premieres on Netflix Wednesday, does not name Donald Trump explicitly, but, according to reviewers at Politico, it is a clear commentary on how Trump’s rhetoric about restoring factory and other manufacturing jobs doesn’t exactly match reality for working-class America, a constituency on which Trump has set much of his 2020 re-election hopes.
The documentary — the first film, as Vox notes, from Michelle and Barack Obamas’ Higher Ground production company, which has partnered with Netflix to bring projects to the streaming company — looks at what happens when a Chinese automotive glass company takes over a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio.
The film gives an unvarnished view of the ups and downs of the takeover, from the joy laid-off GM workers feel at getting new jobs to the pains brought on by stark differences between U.S. and Chinese corporate culture — and a continual shift toward automation.
Politico details a scene in the film where a company official shows off areas where the plan is to replace people with robotic arms and other machines, noting:
Scenes like this are typical in the film, which depicts the fallout after Shanghai-based Fuyao Glass revives a former GM plant and hires many of its former American workers. The employees are at first excited to find new jobs, but soon find themselves struggling to swallow a fraction of their former pay, difficult working conditions and the prospect that, no longer protected by a union, they could be fired at any moment.
The documentary, which debuts on Netflix on August 21, never mentions President Donald Trump by name—but its message is clear: Trump’s promise to reinvigorate the industrial heartland is going to take a lot more than a campaign slogan. 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.
While manufacturing jobs have grown since Trump took office, such growth has slowed amid the U.S.-China trade war, with Politico explaining that the largest gains in the sector have been made in the West and Southwest, while traditional Rust Belt areas of the Midwest have not experienced the same.
American Factory begins streaming on Netflix Wednesday.