We chat to Amaree McKenstry-Hall about starring in Audible, a short film that was nominated for Best Documentary Short at the Oscars.
Nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Short, Audible is about a deaf high school football player who is shaken by his friend’s suicide. It follows the buildup to his final homecoming game, and shows how he copes with family and other relationships. We got to chat to Amaree McKenstry-Hall about starring in the film, and here’s how the conversation went.
Congratulations on getting a nomination for Best Documentary Short Subject. How did you feel when you heard the news?
To be honest with you, I didn’t even expect that to happen until maybe a year or a year and a half into it. My girlfriend, Matt [Matthew Ogens, director of Audible], Geoff [McLean, producer] contacted me and said, “Do you know that short is up for an Oscar nomination?” I was aware of the Academy Award. But an Oscar, I couldn’t believe that the whole world was watching this video and responding to it, and I just, I feel humble. Either way, whether I get the award or not. I’m still so proud of what Audible brings. It’s just been such a worthy experience. It’s such an incredible film for everybody to watch.
How did this film come about?
The way that all started was Matt, because Matt grew up with his friend, which you can ask Matt, I don’t want to tell his personal story. I don’t want to misrepresent it. But he grew up with a close friend who was Deaf, and he had exposure to interpreters. So, he had an interest to make this film. He got Andy Bonheyo, who is the Executive Director for our sports team. During my interview, they asked me a lot of questions and they got pretty personal. But that didn’t intimidate me. I thought it was important to just be authentic and expose the experience for Black Deaf people and frustrations that we have, especially when approaching police officers. There’s often violence that happens, misunderstandings. There’s racism that we are frequently facing. There’s a lot more that I’m not even listing.
During my interview, Matt and Geoff continued to ask more questions on that and I was very comfortable. I just kept responding candidly, and there were a lot of different test shoots that we did with other participants that didn’t go over well, but once they did a test shoot with me and to be clear, this process took almost 10 years, they went through years and years of different football teams, students. Once they got me on camera, it just clicked. And so, they started the project, it started during the summertime, and it was about a year’s worth of filming.
Audible doesn’t just feature Deaf athleticism, but also the struggles and loss that young Deaf people can go through and that yourself and your peers did experience. Could you talk a little about the vulnerability of documenting that journey?
Well, to be honest with you, I just wasn’t concerned about being vulnerable. I really wanted to address wrongdoings. I wanted to address oppression and I didn’t want to just accept that. And not just as a Deaf person, but as a Black person. For my people, we are oppressed, and I don’t want to continue taking on this oppression to be silenced. We are all human beings, and we all bleed the same. It’s important to be heard, I am just as smart as anybody else. We don’t need to be on different pages, we can all be on the same page.
So, the way to get on the same page and to connect with people is to be candid. So here when there’s violence happening, the murder that happened from the police here in the United States in Minnesota, I have to respond to that as an individual and to see everybody waking up together, we have to be vulnerable. For me, myself as Amaree, I still know that there are certain constructs that I’m still living within that I still need to come through as well. But the more that we can be candid and the more we can share, we can transform that together better.
How do you feel about the current state of Deaf representation?
I feel it’s been getting better because there’s more exposure for hearing people to gain a better understanding and insight to the Deaf community. I am a BIPOC Deaf individual, and I want us to be able to support the Deaf community of all skin types of all races, and to make sure that we are all equal, in creating equality for hard of hearing, Deaf, Deafblind individuals, for all of us. We are not dumb, we are very smart and intelligent, we just don’t hear. And so, it’s just about simply giving us access. That’s it, we just need access, and we can do the same as anybody else.
I think that sign language is such a beautiful, expressive language, no voice is necessary. It’s just so incredible to be able to create a whole world with your hands. I think that everybody should have a chance to experience it and enjoy it. Not just because I want everybody to learn how to sign but to have that exposure. Because when I gesture things, people still sometimes rely on me needing to speak to them audibly. So, I wish that people can have more exposure to sign languages and so they can acknowledge it and know that I’m signing instead of needing to rely on speaking.
What do you hope Deaf and hearing audiences will take away from Audible?
The acknowledgement of having laws, creating more awareness, creating more accessibility, even just for going to a film and the movie theatre having captions. If you have a Deaf person involved in something, have an interpreter. Also, get more recognition for Deaf actors, for football players, for Deaf basketball players. Give Deaf people more opportunities for this because we work harder. So, there’s so much more greater opportunities that are there for us and so there needs to be coaches that are interested in working harder, and then the players can do better. If we want to see a better future, we have to work harder to accomplish that and to be successful.
So, what I really want to provide is not for me, but for the Deaf community, for the hard of hearing, for the Deafblind, is to give them visibility and opportunities, not just as an actor. Oftentimes in the media, in films, they’ll use hearing people to play roles of Deaf characters and they should instead have authentically Deaf actors play those roles.
How did you feel about Troy Kotsur picking up the BAFTA and Oscar for Best Supporting Actor?
I was overjoyed. I love Troy so much, as well as Marlee Matlin. The two of them, I’m just so proud of them, and I want them to keep going. Hopefully now I’ll be the third, but I’m Black. So as a Black Deaf actor, I feel like this is such an opportunity. I don’t want to treat myself as a star. But I do want to prove people wrong. People who didn’t think that it was possible, and I want to be somebody who creates opportunities for those who can follow behind me. I also don’t want to neglect hearing people. I want to use this as an opportunity to connect and bridge together the hearing and Deaf community together.
And finally, I wanted to ask what you’re up to now?
Well, like I say, I’m hopeful. I’m really hopeful. I want to be acting in more projects. And I need to complete the Deaf Olympics that I will be participating in. And then I also have projects that I want to be doing on social media. I finally got my blue checkmark on social media, which legitimises me and so I’m going to be posting far more. I am just waiting to get an offer for film because I’m ready. I’m ready once that offer comes in, whenever it does.
Audible is available to stream on Netflix.
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