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Obamas aren’t done with politics if new Netflix film is any indication

Wong He is shown working with Kenny Taylor, center, and Jarred Gibson in the furnace tempering area of the Fuyao factory in Dayton, Ohio, in a scene from “American Factory.” (Netflix / Netflix)
By Travis Deshong Washington Post

“American Factory,” the first film in a seven-part slate of projects from Netflix’s partnership with Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, premiered on the streaming platform Wednesday.

Directed by Julie Reichert and Steven Bognar, who previously helmed the Oscar-nominated short film “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant,” the documentary traces the unfolding saga after the Chinese Fuyao company resurrects a former General Motors plant to establish an auto-glass manufacturing operation.

Eager Americans join ranks alongside Chinese workers, but conflict mounts as clashing cultural attitudes and expectations give way to hostility and eventually a charged unionization battle.

Reichert and Bognar’s film, which depicts the ramifications of globalization on ordinary individuals, has garnered positive reviews in the run-up to its release.

Higher Ground Productions acquired the film after its debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. documentary directing prize. “We did not foresee it at all,” Bognar told the Daily Beast of the Obamas’ interest in the film. “We were kind of blown away.”

In a conversation between the Obamas and the directors that Netflix released in a promotional video, the Obamas explained why they attached their names to this project. They believed the film stood for the values they wanted their production company to represent – namely giving a voice to those aiming to help “people understand something they didn’t understand before.”

“ ‘American Factory’ doesn’t come in with a perspective; it’s not an editorial,” Michelle Obama said. “I mean you truly let people speak for themselves, and that is a powerful thing that you don’t always see happen.”

The film inaugurates the Obama-Netflix era, which will go on to include other titles ranging from “Fifth Risk,” a nonfiction adaptation of author Michael Lewis’ book that will examine the heroic stories of unheralded people who safeguard democracy, to “Listen to Your Vegetables & Eat Your Parents,” a half-hour preschool series.

“American Factory” also will premiere at New York City’s IFC Center and be released in select theaters.