Most people know the North Pole as the northernmost point on earth. It lies diametrically opposite the South Pole and is home to extreme temperatures, a nasty bout of global warming, and allegedly Santa’s workshop. To people in Oakland, Calif., it means something different.
“The nickname for the neighborhood in North Oakland is the North Pole,” filmmaker and activist Josh Healey told The Root. “And now it feels like the North Pole with all the gentrification. It’s like the climate of the neighborhood is changing. The native inhabitants, the native polar bears, are being pushed out and becoming like an endangered species in their own environment. But there are some polar bears who aren’t going out without a fight.”
For Healey, that fight has taken the form of The North Pole, his critically-acclaimed web series that explores the mounting hostilities in Oakland through the misadventures of Nina, Marcus, Finn, and Benny, a quartet of misfits trying to make sense of a city they no longer recognize. In order to maintain its authenticity, Healey ensured that the talent involved was homegrown.
“There are a number of us involved in the production on both sides of the camera that are from Oakland, from the Bay Area,” Reyna Amaya, who plays Nina, told The Root. “You start with home. It made sense for us to tell our story.”
Additionally, Healey called in hometown heroes like Sorry to Bother You director Boots Riley, journalist and historian Davey D, rapper Mistah F.A.B., and groundbreaking hip-hop collective Hieroglyphics to help execute his vision and bring the series to life with surprise cameos and other contributions—not to cheapen the show’s urgency with big names, but to reinforce and illustrate the power of Oakland’s community.
“Not all heroes wear capes. Our heroes wear hoodies and chanclas and talk trash and talk politics,” Healey said. “We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for. It’s about that collective action. That’s where we can change things up, so that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to laugh, have some fun, and change the fucking world just a little bit at a time.”
Oakland isn’t the only city at war with itself, but what makes it unique is how rapidly interlopers are erasing decades of culture and identity in order to cultivate their own utopia, preying on weak rent control laws in low-income neighborhoods. This was a prominent theme in The North Pole’s tenacious first season, while its second season serves as a call to arms for immigration reform.
“Gentrification is definitely still prominent in the second season. I think that we were able to also highlight the current issues of immigration,” Amaya said. “I think for Nina’s character the second season became more about how do we become allies? How do we become allies in fights that do affect us, but affect us differently.”
Rosario Dawson, who serves an executive producer on the series along with the justice and ecology organization Movement Generation, echoed Amaya’s sentiments.
“At a moment when children are being thrown in cages at the border, and so many of our communities and environments are under attack, The North Pole flips the script with radical black and brown characters speaking their unfiltered truth and reclaiming their power,” Dawson told The Root.
And while veering into the allure of veganism, the consequences of climate change, the exploitation of class and privilege, and society’s insatiable thirst for social media, it also injects some much-needed levity to cleanse the palate as needed.
“It’s freaking hilarious,” Dawson said. “I honestly can’t wait for y’all to see it.”