Directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Where i Watched it: Hulu
English Audio Description Available?: Not At This Time
The Review: Normally, I break my reviews into sections, but my unorthodox and limited ability to view and discuss the Oscar nominated Flee has left me looking for a new format in which to discuss things that affected my ability to enjoy the film, that are out of the control of the filmmaker.
Hulu is currently the streaming rights holder to this documentary, and when it first premiered on the streaming service, it premiered without any audio tracks other than default, which if I wasn’t a blind film critic, would be fine. I’d watch a foreign language title with subtitles in a heartbeat, no problem. But now, it is about accessibility, and for an Oscar nominated title, especially an animated documentary, not having additional audio feels lazy.
Even the inaccessible Netflix nominee The Hand Of God actually has six different audio tracks, it just so happens that none are English (as of this writing) or English Audio Description. Which is weird, given its exposure here in America. Then again, Netflix pushed Roma to a Best Picture nomination, and it still, to this very day, has no English tracks, described or otherwise.
This is quite common among foreign titles, where often all the visually impaired community gets is English dubbing, if we are even lucky to get that. The level at which we turn our noses up artistically at dubbed audio in this country is astounding, now that I’m on the other side. People want me to check out these big films like Parasite and Menarie, but I’d like to be able to know what exactly is going on. For me, without audio description, scenes without dialogue become “well, the score is nice”, and movies that selectively translate, like Flee, give me only part of the film.
So there is this portion of films and TV shows (All Of us Are Dead sounds fun, but I want audio description) that are cut off from the blind and visually impaired community. Where we could continue to learn and grow, embracing the art form the way we know how, we cannot.
I called Hulu to complain about the lack of any additional audio tracks for Flee when it hit the service, and just recently noticed that they made a version available with at least an English dubbing. So, while it was not what I asked for, it made the film at least slightly accessible (or so I thought), and I took the time to see a film that managed a groundbreaking hat trick with nominations in Best International Feature, Best Documentary Feature, and Best Animated Feature.
What I got was a film that is only partially dubbed. Flee is, from what I can tell, a narrative broken down into two parts. The interview portions, and the staged recreations of the flashbacks of our storyteller’s life journey. He has a powerful story to tell, and it is my understanding that the film is presented in an animated format because he still wanted to protect his identity, as being a gay Afghan refugee makes him feel, at least on some level, still unsafe to have his face plastered all over a traditional feature.
The interview portions are the only parts really with English dubbing, there is plenty of foreign language dialogue within the film that is left untouched, and untranslated. I missed huge chunks of the film, which led me to want to discuss my inability to truly access this documentary and this man’s story, instead of a normal critique.
Our studios and streaming services lag far behind on many things regarding audio and audio description. While on the phone with the unfortunate Hulu customer service specialist, I read them the riot act that they offered Spencer, a film that I had already seen, and did so with an audio description track, that they could not be bothered to matriculate an already created track to their service. What exactly am I paying for, and how hard can it be to keep an audio track with the film as it jumps from services to various channels? Deaf people get closed captioning like its going out of style. Everything seems to always have English CC, while almost nothing has audio description. These two disabled communities should be treated equally, and they are not.
I’d love to be able to really get into Flee as a film. The parts I got felt important, grounded, and a stark reminder that home is where you are supposed to feel safe, yet far too many people never get to have that moment. From what I can piece together, to a visually angled person, I’d recommend this product as being an important work that demands to be watched. It’s just a shame that for a few million Americans struggling with blindness or severe visual impairment, I have to say that the English dubbing is not remotely sufficient. Yes, I sat through it, but I’m out here writing reviews for my community. Unless there’s some reason you want to listen to a film that is at best 25% translated, then don’t bother. That’s a touch pill to swallow, given the wide praise that this film has gotten, and the awards it is likely to get. But Flee just is a film that Hulu is not interested in allowing our community to access and enjoy, and is perfectly happy with ignoring our needs for accessibility.
Hulu. Do better. Your move.
Final Grade: Unwatchable.