Residents embrace the return of web series The North Pole

on September 9, 2019

The mood at the Grand Lake Theatre on Wednesday night was one of jollity and exuberance as hundreds of Oaklanders descended on the historic movie theater to witness the premiere of the web series, The North Pole Season 2. Head writer Josh Healey and actress Reyna Amaya led the cast along the green carpet procession, to the jubilation of hundreds of their fans and supporters who lined up hours earlier in anticipation.

The series was created and produced by Movement Generation, an Oakland-based organization that does advocacy on land, labor, and cultural issues. In an interview before the premiere, Healey spoke about why he thinks comedy can be a tool to address pertinent issues. “It’s using the power of art to tell our stories in a way that can be easily understood by our neighbors,” he said. “Very few people can watch a documentary or read a book, but through comedy, information is transmitted as you’re entertained.”

The first season, which debuted in 2017, focused on four trash-talking revolutionary artists referred to as “polar bears,” who took actions for justice in their community. In that season, the characters Benny (played by actor Santiago Rosas), Nina (Reyna Amaya), Fin (Eli Marienthal), and Marcus (Donte Clark) tried to tackle the rising cost of rent that was forcing native Oaklanders out the city.  In the finale of Season 1, Benny was locked up and threatened with deportation, opening a whole new chapter for the series.

Santiago Rosas (left), Reyna Amaya (center), and Josh Healey (right) pose for a photo at the premiere of The North Pole 2.

As a result, Season 2 focuses on the woes of the immigrant community. This time Benny faces deportation orders. His attorney, played by Rosario Dawson, secures him a temporary release and then advises him to obtain legal immigration status. Within 60 days, Benny and his friends choose to go political. He runs for the head of Alameda County Sheriff’s Office making the first run for any political office by an undocumented immigrant.

Season 2 highlights the importance of social media as a new and reliable way to pass information. The character Nina, leads a whole political campaign by just relying on Twitter and Instagram. Speaking to the audience after the show, actress Reyna Amaya was asked about why social media is so important to the film. “In a community such as Oakland where folks can no longer afford things like cable, or a newspaper, it’s of importance to find them where they are,” she said. “Hashtag social media!’’

The second season also addresses climate change. (The series name is a metaphor. Global warming is driving out polar bears from their homes in the North Pole, just as gentrification is driving out longtime Oakland residents.) The character Marcus is seen struggling with lung complications, which the characters attribute to excessive air pollution. They also point out the fires that ravaged Northern California over the last few years and blame human activity as the key to ongoing environmental degradation. 

The second season series also compares the four friends to different kinds of vegetation within a complete ecosystem. Marcus is a young black man. Nina is an older black woman. Fin is a white man and Benny a Latino man. The metaphor shows how each individual “species” interacts with its ecology and creates a system that is beneficial to all.

 The North Pole: Season 2 also tackles the controversial issues of racism and privilege.  The character Fin, who comes from a well-to-do white family, must face his racist and anti-immigrant relatives. In the story, he had previously visited a friend in Oakland years ago, and he got hooked on the liberal tendencies of the town. He liked it, and Oakland changed his thinking. Back in Minnesota, Fin becomes an activist for change. But at a family reunion, he is offered a job by one of his well-connected family members based on his whiteness. Fin turns the offer down. “Our whiteness shouldn’t be a tool to foster social and all other forms of injustices,” he says, “Rather we should use our whiteness to address the underserved.’’

As people lined up for the screening, some enthusiastic fans spoke about why they had chosen to endure the long lines. “It’s through movies like The North Pole that our stories can be heard, and I will always support The North Pole,’’ said Sanaa Bengholanm who migrated from Morocco decades ago and calls Oakland home.

Her close friend Julia Frudden said she has lived in different states, but it’s Oakland that has embraced her. ‘”It’s my honor to support our local talent that tackles real issues in our neighborhoods,’’ she said.

Among the many attendees who braved the long lines was May Boeve, who spoke about the issue of climate change. “We have to find new ways of telling our stories,’’ she said. “I find comedy as being  effective in curbing global warming, and that’s why am here.’’

The North Pole Season 2 will have another screening in Los Angeles. Season 2 will officially be released on September 10. Like Season 1, Season 2 is a web series and can be viewed online at http:/www.thenorthpoleshow.com/.

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Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: oaklandnorthstaff@gmail.com.

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