By DR. FLORANGEL ROSARIO BRAID
Two films which won Oscars at the 92nd Academy Awards dealt with Asian culture. South Korea’s “Parasite” was the first non-English language film to win the best picture in the 92-year history of the Oscars. It likewise won for best director, best international feature, and best original screenplay. It is a satire about class inequality in South Korea.
“American Factory,” the first film from Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions focuses on what is described as “complex capitalism” and “culture clash,” and a commentary on the unpredictability of globalization. Produced for Netflix, the story examines culture, labor, class struggle, and “freedom in America.” A Chinese billionaire who heads a large enterprise (Fuyao) opens a new factory in an abandoned General Motors plant. When this Shanghai-based company came to Dayton, Ohio, it brought with it several hundred Chinese employees with experience in running a large-scale glass-making operation. The task of the skilled Chinese workers was to help the 2,000 new American blue-collar workers, many of whom were former General Motors employees, on the intricacies of industrial glass production. The film takes a sympathetic look at the dynamic between workers and employers in the 21st century globalized economy.
Using a “fly on the wall” documentary filmmaking approach which relies much on sounds around the factory and dialogue of workers, Directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert explain that by “melding two cultures together — the Chinese culture and the US culture — they were able to show how two disparate cultures can co-exist. It wasn’t easy. While there was hope and optimism at the beginning, the venture began to experience setbacks. It was also a clash of culture between “high-tech China and working-class America.” But while the film showed the seeming incompatibility of American and Chinese value systems and work habits, there was a serious attempt from both camps to try to make things work. As the directors noted during an interview with the Obamas, there was an honest attempt “to connect,” to focus on what unites, rather than what separates the two cultures. Which, they say, is “taking the high ground.”
Finally, the documentary brings out a “truth” and a “challenge.” The truth — “That is at odds with the present establishment in America – that America is a country that has always relied on labor unseen – on the labor of poor Americans, of Americans of color, of foreigners, of immigrants.”
And the challenge –To help build trust – trust within the industry and between cultures. “That the world is suffering from a bad case of “trust deficit disorder” with people losing faith in political establishments and rising polarization and populism. Multilateralism is under fire when we need it most, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Storytelling that focuses on closing the trust deficit disorder gap is the need of the hour.
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