Film Review: BFI Flare: Jack and Yaya

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Directors: Jennifer Bagley and Mary Hewey

(BFI Flare was cancelled, but some films were still available to review remotely. Other films are available to watch on BFI Flare at Home)

This sprawling documentary puts the unusual friendship of Jack and Yaya under the lens. The two are lifelong friends since childhood when they lived next door to each other, but when they first met Jack was a girl and Yaya was a boy. This film explores the coincidence of their transitions, and the solid support of their families.

Their social position is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this film, which is an otherwise reasonably familiar journey of home movies and hormones. What stands out instead is the fact that Jack and Yaya both belong to working-class families, a social class rarely seen when it comes to discussing LGBTQ+ issues on film. Directors Jennifer Bagley and Mary Hewey never tire of shooting the backyards of Jack and Yaya’s families in Philadelphia; long grass, empty bottles of beer and barbecues full of last summer’s ashes suggest that poverty is never that far away.

Yaya remains at home, working as a waitress while Jack has moved to Boston with his dog. When they first met, with Yaya (then Christopher) running into Jack’s house to try on his mother’s shoes, something between the two clicked, and they became inseparable. On their road to be trans, both thought that they were gay for a time, but when Yaya found drag something inside her realised that she could – and should – be a woman full time.

The first long part of this film features lots of family members talking about their memories of the pair as children. All are supportive and those who deadname Yaya do so through ignorance rather than through malice. Some of these relatives are larger than life, loving the camera that has come into their homes. They continue to go hunting and fishing, and Yaya has no qualms in throwing live crabs into a boiling pot.

Towards the end a sharper narrative comes into play as Jack prepares for his hysterectomy, but even this is downplayed when the film returns to a party that both families throw in order to watch a football game featuring the Philadelphia Eagles. Jack and Yaya are completely accepted by their families, and as Jack’s mother observes, he may have changed gender but he remains the same person. In contrast, Yaya felt that she was stronger and more confident as a woman than she was as Christopher.

Perhaps without a clear narrative arc this documentary would be more successful in a 60-minute format as it often appears rootless, despite the focus on family. Of course, there are no easy beginnings, middles and ends for any life story, and the story for Jack and Yaya continues, and let’s hope it remains a happy one.


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