Tuesday 16 June 2020

Interview with Mary Hewey - Co-Director of JACK & YAYA

“I hope people walk away from this film with more empathy and understanding of what it means to be trans”, says Mary Hewey, co-director of Jack & Yaya, the highly-anticipated doc available On Demand June 19th from Freedom Cinema LLC.

Jack & Yaya captures a year in the life of childhood best friends who go from swapping gendered Christmas gifts as kids to transitioning in their twenties. The titular next-door neighbors grew up together in a rural area but were able to support each other when they learned they were both transgender.

How long of a journey has this been for you, Mary – from script to screen?

It’s a little hard to know where to start because Jack and I have been good friends since 2010, but it wasn’t until a number of years later that the idea of a documentary came around. The first little seed of an idea for the film started in December 2016, right after Christmas. I think I had just been talking to Jack, who was home in New Jersey with Yaya and his family for the holidays, and I was really struck by their friendship and so I just wrote down “Jack and Yaya documentary?” I revisited the idea with Jen, my partner, who had been working in film for since college, and after many long conversations, we decided to give the project a shot. Our original idea had been to do a short film, but we quickly found out that there was just no way we could cram thirty years of friendship into less than an hour.

We began filming, mainly in New Jersey, the summer of 2017 and wrapped up in the late spring of 2018. It was just the two of us, me and Jen, no other crew, and one camera. While this presented a number of logistical challenges, I think it ultimately helped us create a really intimate portrait of Jack, Yaya, and their families.

Throughout 2018, Jen and I were editing away and that’s when Jorgy Cruz, our Executive Producer and Post-Production Supervisor, joined our team and helped us really fine-tune the story. We got a beautiful score done by our friend and musician Matthew Connor, and then we started submitting to film festivals. Our World Premiere was at qFlix Philadelphia, where we won both an Audience Award and the Thom Cardwell Grand Jury Award.

What made these two people such ideal documentary subjects?

I feel like the minute you meet them, you get it. There is just this charisma that exudes from both of them and draws people in. Both Jack and Yaya probably have a dozen people who consider them their very best friend and that really speaks to how deeply people connect with them. They are so generous with their love and will do anything for the people they care for.

Also, Jack and Yaya are surrounded by remarkable people. When you meet their friends and family who raised them, you understand where they got their charisma and kindness. Jack’s dad, Tony, is truly a star. He’s a blue collar Jersey dad who loves Pearl Jam and Busch Light, and who is also an amazing LGBTQ ally. We wish we could do a whole other film about him.

Were they, at any time, unsure about the film? Maybe a little reluctant? 

I think both Jack and Yaya had times when this film really challenged them. Though a lot of their story is filled with joy and acceptance, Jack and Yaya have had some really tough experiences as trans people and sometimes it was hard to revisit those painful memories. We are so grateful to them for being willing to share their story with the world. We truly cannot thank them enough for trusting us and coming with us on this journey.

Can you relate to Jack and Yaya? 

As a queer woman, I relate to the struggles and the joys of living authentically in a world that can be hostile, or even outright violent, toward members of the LGBTQ+ community. I also relate to the way both Jack and Yaya take on the world. They take on life’s challenges with a lot of humor and love, and I think that is how I like to live my life as well.

What’s the message you want to be taken from this beautiful film?

I hope people walk away from this film with more empathy and understanding of what it means to be trans. There is an epidemic of violence against trans people, particularly Black trans women, in this country. Just this past week we lost Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, a Black trans woman who was murdered in Philadelphia, PA, and Riah Milton, a Black trans woman from Ohio. We need to uplift the voices and stories of trans and non-binary folks because I believe personal stories, such as Jack and Yaya’s, can be hugely impactful in changing hearts and minds, and we certainly need that right now.

At the same time, I also hope folks can feel the joy in this film. I think many of the stories we see on film about trans folks often end in tragedy and so we wanted to also uplift the joy of trans kinship. I really love Laverne Cox’s phrase/hashtag #TransIsBeautiful - it’s a celebration of the trans community and that’s what we hope we have accomplished in Jack & Yaya.