Review: Jack and Yaya

Year: 2019
Runtime: 84 Minutes
Director: Jennifer Bagley and Mary Hewey

By Erica Richards 

If this first sentence is the only part that you read of this review, please know and understand this: the world needs more stories like “Jack & Yaya”. I immediately fell in love with these people, their families, and their mid-Atlantic accents. The only issue I had with this documentary was having to watch them boil their blue crabs—pure madness! As a native Marylander, the only way to cook and eat crabs is steamed and covered in Old Bay. Nonetheless, Jack and Yaya exude pure charm and share unwavering realness in their stories, it is completely captivating. 

Audiences can expect that most likely a story centered around a trans-person might focus on their struggle to be accepted by their loved ones, but “Jack & Yaya” is uncommon in that way.  “Jack & Yaya” is a story that solely focuses on the two protagonists in the never-ending process of accepting themselves. This is their personal journey, this is their life and what brings it together beautifully is the unique connection they share. Jack, a trans-man and Christina “Yaya” a trans-woman grew up together in South New Jersey as neighbors and best friends.

“They helped each other become who they truly are. The story shows how they support each other through their struggles with anything from the pain of legal documented name changes to surgeries.”

Through a collection of present-day interviews and footage combined with childhood footage and photos we get to know Jack and Yaya together and separately. Jack recalls meeting Yaya when he was around 3-years old, and she around 2-years old; when Jack was Jacqueline and Yaya was Christopher.

They immediately formed a bond when playing “house” as children, assuming their roles as the Mom and the Dad without discussion. It just was. It worked. Or, how Jack received a Barbie styling mannequin head one year for Christmas and upon opening the present said, “Christopher will want to play with this!” Their friendship has remained this way ever since. They helped each other become who they truly are. The story shows how they support each other through their struggles with anything from the pain of legal documented name changes to surgeries. 

Their loved ones truly love them, no matter what—and this is not just for the sake of the camera. The most heart-warming interviews are with these family members expressing through teary eyes and lumps in their throat how they accept Jack and Yaya completely and unconditionally. Jack’s father at one point says, “He’s Jack. He’s my son I always wanted, and had. Look at him…beautiful person!”

The important lesson here for the viewer is to dismiss judgement of all people. If you were to only look at Jack’s father and not hear him speak, you might think this rough around the edges manly man would not even begin to understand Jack’s life and choices. But you quickly understand that he just knows he loves his child and accepts him. 

“I challenge you to leave this story without feeling moved and loved. Trans people are who they say they are, and “Jack & Yaya” is a perfect celebration of that statement.”

Yaya discusses her transition through discovering drag and realizing that being in drag and becoming Yaya is what made her happy. Of course, there are complexities though, when even Yaya’s gay brother, John, who also did drag—did not understand why Yaya would desire to be in drag outside of the act and performance. John admits that he did not understand and did not support Yaya—questioning her decisions and struggling with losing his brother that he had known and loved as Chris. Chris and Yaya were two different people, as much as they were alike.

The simplicity of the way the film is shot and edited makes it easily consumable for everyone. I challenge you to leave this story without feeling moved and loved. Trans people are who they say they are, and “Jack & Yaya” is a perfect celebration of that statement. 

On Demand June 19th from Freedom Cinema LLC.

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