Spirit Awards: Obamas-Backed 'American Factory' Wins Best Documentary

The Netflix film's co-director Julia Reichert is undergoing chemotherapy as she battles terminal cancer at age 73.

American Factory, the first film from Barack and Michelle Obama's production company Higher Ground, took home the honor for best documentary during Saturday's 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards.

After taking the stage to accept the award, co-director Julia Reichert was quick to explain the true purpose for their project. "Our film tries to ask questions about the fate of working people in Ohio, in China and really around the world. The kind of people that punch a clock, put on a uniform and work for an hourly rage," she said. 

"We all know that income equality is growing and widens and it's kind of becoming a canyon and we all know that. Our film tries to ask the question: Is this the way we want the world to be? No, it's not and we could do something about it. We're all citizens. We have a lot of power." 

Reichert later thanked the factories featured in the doc for "trusting us to bear witness to their hard work and fight for a decent life." She also thanked nominees and said they're all being given "huge hugs." 

The Netflix doc, produced and financed by Participant, also earned an Oscar nomination for co-directors Reichert and Steven Bognar and producer Jeff Reichert. Julia Reichert, who is undergoing chemotherapy as she battles terminal cancer at age 73, told The Hollywood Reporter that an Oscar win would be "extremely meaningful after four nominations and my age and my state of life. It would be very meaningful."

American Factory beat out Apollo 11, For Sama, Honeyland and Island of the Hungry Ghosts in the category.

The Netflix documentary follows Chinese billionaire Cao Dewang, who buys an abandoned General Motors plant in Ohio and reopens it as a windshield factory, Fuyao Glass America. The film captures the initial optimism of plant employees, which over time is tempered by increasing demands from management in their chase for elusive profits.

American Factory gained the support of the Obamas and Netflix after it premiered last year at Sundance. American Factory is in part a follow-up to Reichert and Bognar's 2009 The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant, which chronicled the last days of the once-thriving union shop.

The Obamas were not in attendance at the Spirit Awards, but their absence was not a surprise given co-directors Reichert and Bognar told THR that chances of a sighting of the former president and first lady for even the Academy Awards are slim. "Everything has to be checked out by Secret Service — they have many, many SUVs traveling with them, they don’t just casually go anywhere,” Reichert told THR at the DGA Awards on Jan. 25, where the film was named best documentary.

The Independent Spirit Awards aired live on IFC from Santa Monica. Aubrey Plaza returned as host for the second year in a row.