In Summary
  • Watching the film, however, it is difficult to miss the ideological battle between the US and China.

  • It is impossible to overlook the fact that Obama, the 44th president of the US, must have had an agenda in mind in picking this as his first release in a multi-film deal with Netflix.

  • American Factory is now streaming on Netflix and if you do watch it, be sure to wait until after the credits to see a 10-minute sit-down between the Obamas and the film-makers.

What are the similarities between how the Chinese treat their workers and colleagues in Kenya and elsewhere in the world? Quite many, if a new film, American Factory, released by Barack and Michelle Obama on Neftlix, is anything to go by.

American Factory is directed by seasoned filmmakers and 2010 Oscar nominees Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert, and follows the journey of what transpires when a closed General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio, is taken over by Fuyao Glass, a Chinese company specialising in automotive glass. The new plant has majority American employees and minority Chinese, who are there to train the Americans on the Fuyao way of doing things; diligence, simplicity and learning.


As we have seen in Kenya and other African countries, friction arises immediately between the Chinese and their hosts as there’s a big language barrier and an outright clash of the Chinese and host country’s working cultures. In the case of Fuyao, the Chinese are used to working 12 hours or more, the Americans are used to eight. The Chinese take two to three days off a month, the Americans take eight.

In 2018, a Chinese national was deported from Kenya after being caught on tape insulting Kenyans and the President. American Factory also brings out similarities here as the Chinese leadership in Fuyao advises their Chinese colleagues on how to manage American temperaments by handling the Americans like children who “love to be flattered to death”. They advise their fellow Chinese that “donkeys like to be touched in the direction that their hair grows,” and this is how they should treat their American colleagues.

In the documentary, the American workers try to unionise and the chairman of Fuyao, Cho Tak Wong, makes it clear that he will shut down the factory before he allows unionising. He fires the American top leadership he had put in place in favour of the Chinese. Over 3,000 employees come and go. And many of the Americans who unionise are fired.


In Kenya, nearly 1,000 employees were fired by Chinese Communications and Construction Company when they protested, asking for higher salaries and better means of transport in January 2018.

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