“Audible,” a 38-minute documentary on Netflix, has been nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Documentary (Short Subject). The film is directed by Matt Ogens. Executive producers include actor Peter Berg and Deaf actor and model Nyle DiMarco.
“Audible” invites viewers into the world of the Maryland School for the Deaf. We follow Amaree McKenstry-Hall as he navigates playing for a championship-caliber football team. He also deals with family and personal relationships. The film provides a glimpse into the lives of cheerleaders Lara Walkup and Jalen Perry (now Jazie) in their senior year of high school. All of them come to terms with the suicide of their friend Teddy Webster.
According to Variety, Ogens grew up about 30 miles from Maryland School for the Deaf. His best friend since the age of eight is deaf. Ogens had wanted to make a film about the school for a long time, but it wasn’t until he met McKenstry-Hall that he finally found the perfect charismatic subject to build his film around, Deadline reported.
McKenstry-Hall had some initial doubts about participating. He knows all too well how vicious social media can be. Obviously, he decided to go for it. “I am a Deaf Black man and I really want to show my pride within the Deaf community and share that with everyone,” he told Deadline.
McKenstry-Hall was born hearing. He became deaf around the age of two or three from meningitis. While he has a cochlear implant, he only uses it for music to help him stay calm. He is the only Deaf person in his family. In a camera confession, he shares that in the hearing world, he feels alone. His mother does use American Sign Language. (ASL). However, there’s a moment in the film where McKenstry-Hall is shown with his extended family who are all speaking to each other. No one is using ASL. When it’s clear that he cannot communicate with them, he leaves the room.
The film also explores McKenstry-Hall’s relationship with his father, who left around the time of his diagnosis. They are learning to connect with each other through ASL.
His dad says in the film, “Whatever differences he feels in my world, I’m willing to go in and feel those same differences in his world.”
McKenstry-Hall is a tremendously captivating lead in Audible. However, the standout moments of the film come from the kids simply being kids. They share joy, gossip, frustrations, love, and sadness. There is a brief scene where the football team dances during practice. It’s pure joy to watch because you can feel the emotion.
“The standout moments of the film come from the kids simply being kids.”
In an interview on Variety.com, director Matt Ogens says, “I was trying to capture the teenagers’ point of view, rather than doing something observational from my point of view. I wanted to create an immersive audio-visual experience of what it sounds and looks like to be a teenager, and all those high school touchstones – your senior year, the homecoming dance, and sports.”
“Audible” also shows off the Deaf community and culture. One interesting choice is the decision not to use voice-overs. Instead, ASL is captioned. Background noise in the cafeteria (dishes, cutlery, chatter), locker room doors banging, cheering, or on the football field (insects, feet on grass) are captioned. There’s noises when signing whether in laughter or frustration. It shows that while ASL is signed, deafness is not a silent world. The film shows people who use ASL, spoken language, and have cochlear implants. The important message conveyed is that deafness is a spectrum.
The football team’s head coach, Ryan Bonyeho, provides the more observational of view. He notes that “football is one of the avenues in which to show the world what (these kids) are made of. Because they don’t hear, their other senses are heightened. They have a better feel for everything on the field and can see things better.”
The film concludes with McKenstry-Hall, Walkup, and Perry honoring their friend Teddy. Perry says, “Life is short. Anything can happen at any time. Be Yourself.”
After the quick 38-minutes, even though the film concludes, the viewer is left wanting to know more about the characters’ journeys. Today, McKenstry-Hall is a wrestling coach in Minnesota. Walkup is attending Gallaudet University. Perry is looking to pursue acting.
The 94th Academy Awards will air on Sunday, March 27, at 8 PM EST.