Riding the Hollywood wave of deaf representation in movies like “The Sound of Metal” and “A Quiet Place,” Netflix’s new documentary “Audible” presents a real-life story of perseverance in the face of a seemingly insuperable disability. Headed by Emmy Award-winning director Matt Ogens (“From Harlem With Love,” “Why We Fight”), the film follows high school athlete Amaree McKenstry-Hall’s senior year at Maryland School for the Deaf. After becoming deaf from a life-threatening case of meningitis at two years old, Amaree faced innumerable challenges during his life, including the death of a close friend and estrangement from his own father.
The documentary is a masterclass in perspective, immersing the audience into a completely different world; it truly is an aural experience. Very little of the film’s dialogue is spoken verbally, instead relying on subtitles to translate the American Sign Language used by Amaree and his friends. During the scenes where Amaree is playing football, many of the noises which hearing audiences are accustomed to have been removed or slightly muted as part of the sound design, creating a world which is closer to that of the players on the field. We feel the crash of helmets during a tackle, or the bass of a pop song during the school’s homecoming dance. These small details make the film something great and help the audience to bond empathetically with the characters.
For all its merits, there are some aspects of the documentary that could be further amplified. Community, romance, faith, disability and adversity are some of the many themes introduced throughout the film, but unfortunately few are given the chance to be fully fleshed out—and how could they be? Clocking in at only thirty eight minutes total, “Audible” is limited in its ability to present a developed narrative due to a lack of material to fill out the story. What the film really needs is more time to advance and connect dissonant ends, to dig in deep when it comes to the central message.
One of the crucial parts of Amaree’s story is the death of his close friend, Teddy Webster. After transferring out of Maryland School for the Deaf, Teddy faced bullying and harassment from students at his new school. This isolation led Teddy to take his own life, shocking the entire community. Amaree and his friends reflect on how Teddy’s death affected them and that it speaks to the larger issue of discrimination faced by those who are deaf. However, this segment of the documentary is quite brief, with very little of the film’s runtime dedicated to telling Teddy’s story. This seems a missed opportunity, given that “Audible” is all about combating the kind of adversity which Teddy was subjected to.
“Audible,” alongside Netflix documentary “Crip Camp” and docuseries “Deaf U,” stands as a triumph for telling stories with representation in mind. The film is short, sweet and profound—it just needed a little more time.
“Audible” is available to stream on Netflix.