UPDATED with video: Following her Oscar win for American Factory, Julie Reichert joined her fellow director Steven Bognar and producer Jeff Reichert backstage, offering her message to female filmmakers and the entertainment industry at large, as the rare female filmmaker to take home a statuette tonight.
For Reichert, the message that was most important to convey was one of sisterhood and solidarity. “When I first came to the Oscars in 1977, it was a sea of white men—in the press corps, all the photographers. Now, how did [change] happen? It’s not by individual women. It’s because we started realizing, we’ve got to work together. We’ve got to support each other, and not fit into the patriarchy—not fit into the boys’ club,” the director said. “So, what would I say? We don’t have to do it the way the boys have done it. We can do it the way that women want it done, whatever it is.”
Given that the Best Documentary Oscar winner had Reichert and Bognar filming in China, the directors were naturally asked about their thoughts on the coronavirus outbreak, as well. “The coronavirus is a very deadly, serious thing that is growing and spreading, and needs to be contained. We are sad because one of our co-producers, Mijie LI, who did so much for this film, was going to come to the Academy Awards. We had a ticket for her, and she could not attend. And also, Chairman Cao Dewang, the founder of Fuyao [Group], who trusted us to tell this story, and who didn’t kick us out of his factory, even when things got really hard…He was going to come to the Academy Awards, and he could not come because of the coronavirus and the travel ban,” Bognar shared. “That inconvenience pales compared to people losing their lives and suffering because of this virus. But our hearts go out to the people who are dealing with this very, very deadly virus.”
Finally, the pair discussed their takeaways from shooting the Netflix doc. Centered on a plant in Ohio where Americans and Chinese members of the working class labored side by side, American Factory suggested that even across cultural divides, tolerance, empathy and community could prevail. “What we saw in the plant was that working people, whether they were Chinese or American, found ways to get along, found ways to have fun, even if they didn’t speak the same language, which they mostly didn’t,” Reichert said. “I hope our film makes you see two things: One is that workers around the world are definitely getting pushed down. But also that we can be fair to each other. We can listen to each other.”
“I think that’s why President Obama and Mrs. Obama took on our film at Sundance…They felt it could help people listen to each other,” she added. “These stories create empathy, which then builds relationships.”
For a look at the American Factory directors’ comments backstage, click on the video below.