“Jack and Yaya” tells the story of a compassionate friendship



The Brookline Teen Center was packed with people who came to see the film “Jack and Yaya,” a celebration of friendship.

Jack Milligan and Yaya Cross met when they were just two and three years old. As adults, their bond is still unbreakable because they always saw each other for who they really were.

The documentary film “Jack and Yaya,” produced by Jen Bagley and Mary Hewey, played for a full audience at the Brookline Teen Center on March 3 and ended with a zoom discussion with Milligan and Cross.

“Jack and Yaya” is a collection of home videos, interviews and photos that follow Milligan and Cross, two transgender friends. In the panel discussion, Milligan said the documentary ended up telling a different story than he originally thought it would.

“I thought it was gonna be about the trans experience. But then watching it and seeing our families and our friendship, I realized that it’s actually about how special platonic love and friendship is,” Milligan said. “But how cool it is when your family supports you and shows up even if they don’t know exactly the right steps.”

The film shows Cross and Milligan’s lives together: they camped, partied and FaceTimed, and Cross even gave Milligan a stick-and-poke tattoo. Most of all, the two friends supported each other. Milligan helped Cross go through the lengthy process of changing her name, and Cross took care of Milligan after his hysterectomy.

Audience member, Lydia Richardson, said that their friendship and kindness were evident in the movie and during the discussion.

“I really like their dynamic and how they’re really sweet to each other,” Richardson said. “Even from the Zoom, they were just really friendly and they didn’t have a problem answering any questions.”

The film took place both in Milligan and Cross’ hometown in South Jersey and in Boston, where Milligan lives and worked as an extended day teacher at the Lincoln School. Many of Milligan’s former students came to the screening. Sophomore Josie Marqui knew Milligan as a teacher and said it was compelling to see what Milligan’s life was like outside of school.

“It’s just kind of interesting to see behind the scenes. You meet a lot of people in your life, and you don’t really think about what’s happening in their life,” Marquis said. “Jack was just kind of a side character in my life, and I never really thought about him besides the few times that we spoke. Now it turns out that he had this whole adventure and it was interesting to see.”

Sophomore Sana Lai said that the film was important to the people who could resonate with Cross and Milligan’s journey.

“It was an interesting movie and I feel like it would be relatable to anyone who feels anything remotely like that and it could hit home,” Lai said. “It also showed that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

During the discussion, Milligan was asked about his experience with publicly transitioning when he was teaching at Lincoln. He said that he was nervous, but since coming out he has felt supported by the people around him.

“The Brookline community is really special to me because everyone there has shown up and been supportive and made it easy—as easy as transitioning in public can be,” Milligan said. “You come out to a lot of people, to a lot of kids, to a lot of families and you have that fear of ‘what is somebody gonna think about me?’ ‘Are they gonna think something different about me?’ But I just felt nothing but love and kindness.”

Cross said that before making the film she did not realize how unique her and Milligan’s friendship was.

“We never took each other for granted, but we knew we were always gonna be there,” Cross said. “It was something that we didn’t realize not everybody has and that we just get to share together, which is important and wonderful.”