Storytelling is a powerful tool for moving hearts and minds. But if a story is “entertaining as hell” and offers “twists and turns and major political epiphanies” with the help of “magic mushrooms,” well, that’s even better. This is how co-star Santiago Rosas describes “The North Pole,” a web series that tackles gentrification, the climate crisis and immigration through the eyes of four friends—Nina (Rayna Amaya), Marcus (Donte Clark), Finn (Eli Marienthal) and Benny, an undocumented immigrant played by Rosas. The crux of the show is that people of color are being pushed out of North Oakland and this multiracial group of friends won’t go down without a fight.
“The North Pole” stood out when it debuted in 2017 because the Oakland-based climate justice organization Movement Generation created the show. For Season 2, which premieres today, September 10, actress and activist Rosario Dawson serves as co-executive producer and plays Benny’s immigration attorney. Dawson recently spoke to Colorlines about why she wanted to work on “The North Pole,” how she became politicized, and the importance of storytelling in movement work.
How did you first learn about “The North Pole”?
I was introduced to Movement Generation’s work by [planning committee member] Gopal Dayaneni, who guest appeared in a show I helped produce. Afterward, I audited a class he was teaching. The perspective he handed over was critical, so I watched the first season of “The North Pole” and I loved it. The show amplified issues and voices that aren’t usually seen in media. I told [Gopal] to keep me in mind for Season 2. When he asked me if I wanted to be involved, I jumped at the chance.
You founded Voto Latino in 2004. And at the 2012 Democratic National Convention you were the first celebrity I saw speak out against the Obama administration’s mass deportations. How did you first become politicized?
The way I became politicized is actually very similar to what you see in the show. It was just through life. My great grandmother was a member of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, and so was my grandmother. They would disseminate pamphlets in English and Spanish, and my mom went along. So I grew up with this eye toward participation, this idea that voting, organizing and activism were all part of one’s life.
“The North Pole” tackles a lot of topics at once. Sometimes a single episode will touch on gentrification, race and the climate crisis. Did you have any reservations about working on a show that tackles so many heady subjects?
So many of the issues we face are interconnected, and I love doing work that connects the dots. I had such an amazing opportunity with my first film, “Kids.” It touched on a lot of important topics that impact the lives of young people, like rape, violence, abuse and HIV. So from the beginning of my career, I’ve viewed storytelling as much more than entertainment. That’s what I love so much about “The North Pole.” It’s storytelling with a message. It’s about four people who care about each other. They don’t always agree, but they recognize that and work with each other to make a difference in their communities. These are everyday people grappling with what is unfolding in their community, and they’re trying to survive it.
Folks with Movement Generation have said that the organization tries to place storytelling at the center of its organizing efforts. Do you think this is an emerging trend? Will we see more organizers and justice organizations focus on storytelling?
It’s powerful to tell your story. I hope that’s a takeaway from the show. Tarana Burke showed us that with #MeToo; she showed us how telling your story and encouraging others to share their story can change the world. We’re not always taught how important storytelling can be, and certain people’s stories aren’t always amplified in the same way. There are narratives out there that are hateful, destructive or that make us feel more isolated. This show is the opposite of that. I hope people watching look deeper into how issues like climate change, gentrification and immigration are interwoven, and that they are inspired to take action. The show is just a starting point.
Watch Season 2, Episode 1 below.
Tina Vasquez is journalist and researcher based in North Carolina. Her work focuses on immigration and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @TheTinaVasquez.