Hot Docs Review/Interview – Audible – April 29 to May 9, 2021
Audible is Director, Matt Ogens’ short documentary about Amaree McKenstry-Hall’s final year at Maryland School for the Deaf can only skim the surface of the complexity of the situations depicted in its nearly 40 minute runtime.
Matt told me that he wanted his film to be many things to many people: “nuanced and complex and beautiful, [and about] acceptance and resilience and coming of age.” As long as one recognizes that there will not be any definitive answers to lingering questions about the subjects, the documentary is worth watching to learn about Amaree – even if he is depicted more as a symbol rather than an individual.
For example, Amaree’s choice to wear a cochlear implant (CI) in order to hear music is interesting, especially because he is culturally Deaf. How does his Deaf community feel about the choice? Is this common amongst the Deaf community, opting out being completely deaf by listening to music? The words and connotations I use here require me to tread lightly – because traditionally Deaf culture has seen CIs as a means of oppression: CIs were seen as a way of turning Deaf people into hearing people against their will.
Matt indicated to me that he wanted Amaree to be able to express himself, to share his point of view and to tell his story. I just wish I had the opportunity to get to know Amaree a little bit more than the structure of the documentary allows for.
Amaree listens to music as a way to relax and to get focused for the upcoming games he plays in as a captain of the football team. Are the other players disadvantaged by not having CIs?
This film is for and about the able-bodied perspective. Matt told me that he wanted to focus on “acceptance and kindness” and that he wanted to demonstrate that we are all equal. There are many out there that would look down upon people for being Deaf, and this is unfortunate. This film is, firstly, for those people.
As a person with lived experience of Deafness, I simply wanted to get to know Amaree, but I realize those aspects of really getting to know someone come after the willingness to accept him or her. The film spends a lot of time justifying why we would want to get to know Amaree as opposed to letting us actually know him.
For example, there is a scene where Amaree’s estranged father gives a presentation about how he has since bonded with his son and has also learned from him. Amaree is in attendance, and to the discerning viewer, it is unclear whether Amaree is able to follow along with what his father is saying. What kinds of accommodations were in place for Amaree at this event, if any?
This scene works on a basic level: Amaree is getting praised and recognized. This helps the director meet his mandate: showing us that Amaree is worthy of acceptance and respect, just like everyone else.
However, if Amaree is not being accommodated, then ironically, the scene does not work as it was intended by someone who has lived experience of disability. It makes Amaree appear as a placeholder, or as a stand-in, of assumed acceptance, when, in fact, the reality is that Amaree is really more of a symbol than a person.
Amaree’s football coach believes that being Deaf creates a heightened degree of vision and creates remarkable athletes who overcome every obstacle thrown at them. You are doing a great disservice to audiences if they leave thinking that this is all it takes to be successful – that you just be disabled. What are the unique aspects of coaching a Deaf team? How are they accommodated?
What other ways are there to see Amaree aside from being Deaf? Is Deaf all that he is?
Audible is available to stream from HotDocs, April 29 to May 9, 2021 across Canada. The film is Executive Produced by Nyle DiMarco, the sexually fluid first deaf contestant on America’s Next Top Model. He also was involved with the Netflix series, Deaf U.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.