Netflix's 'Audible': Nyle DiMarco, Matt Ogens on Making the Doc About a Deaf Athlete (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
Now streaming on Netflix, Audible is the powerful and immersive coming-of-age documentary directed by Matt Ogens and executive produced by Nyle DiMarco. The 40-minute film follows a Maryland School for the Deaf football player named Amaree McKenstry as well as his teammates and friends as they navigate their senior year of high school and start to grapple with the reality of what comes next.
For Ogens, who previously won an Emmy for helming an installment of the popular ESPN 30 for 30 film series, telling this story “started a long time ago,” he tells ET. Having grown up in Maryland with a best friend who was deaf, the director witnessed the challenges endured by him and his community. And later, when he was asked to direct a campaign about high school football, which included Maryland School for the Deaf, he “realized there was a bigger story [he] could tell.”
And the personal connections to the project don’t stop there. In fact, DiMarco attended the school as a teenager and his older brother, Neal, is currently an assistant football coach for the team. “So everything kind of aligned,” Ogen says.
For DiMarco, who is also an executive producer on the Netflix docuseries Deaf U, this film was an opportunity to tell a completely different story about the Deaf community. “Audible is different in the fact that it's really about a Deaf kid who’s going to an all-Deaf school, where students can be themselves, where everyone has an understanding of their culture and their community and of who they are,” he explains.
Comparing it to “what we’ve seen in TV and film historically, where you've seen maybe singular families or one single deaf character and most of the time we see this sort of sob story that’s very paternalistic. We see their struggles and we see their obstacles and how they so much would love or wish that they were hearing or to fix their life,” DiMarco continues.
Whereas Audible shows the community and individuals within it for exactly who they are. “Of course, they experience struggles and they face that. They break down barriers and they figure things out,” he acknowledges. “And where better than on the football field?”
And as a former athlete and even someone who won Dancing With the Stars and proved that being Deaf does not mean one can’t compete on the same level as the hearing, DiMarco says there are a number of misconceptions about the community’s ability to play sports and this film shows “there are no barriers.”
“Oftentimes it’s assumed that Deaf schools couldn’t possibly have a football team or have a sports team,” he says, noting that schools like one featured in this film are often siloed or compared to boarding schools. “In fact, we’re competitive, we’re academics, we’re brainiacs and we’re just like any other school.”
While Ogens wouldn’t necessarily define Audible as a sports doc, football is one of the key elements that drives this story. And it’s when the film feels like an episode of Friday Night Lights that it really shines and resonates.
Of course, that comparison may be due to the fact that creator and director of both the movie and TV version, Peter Berg, also serves as executive producer on this film. But given the success of that series as well as Netflix’s other docuseries, like Last Chance U and Cheer, it’s any wonder if Audible is just the jumping off point for more stories about McKenstry or other students or athletes at the Maryland School for the Deaf.
“I mean, we love the focus of this, of just telling a singular story through the eyes of Amaree and even the other people you meet along the way or through his perspective,” Ogens says. “But Nyle and I’ve talked about how there’s a much bigger world and culture to represent and amazing stories [to tell].”