From the Left



No, the Obamas' Netflix movie isn't political, unless you want it to be

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

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 aren't done with politics just yet," said a Washington Post headline, "if their new Netflix film is any indication."

"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 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, the "American carnage" left behind.


"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.


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