In conversation with

Chrystal Genesis & Heta Fell

Co-founders and co-hosts Stance Podcast

stance podcast

Introduction

Introduction

One of the most common criticisms levelled against liberal media today is that it exists within a bubble. Not so for Stance, a culture and current affairs podcast dedicated to exploring diverse perspectives from across the word. Run by a transatlantic team made up of Chrystal Genesis (formerly BBC) and Heta Fell (formerly Kids Company), Stance was founded on the premise that everyone should have a voice. It was launched, no less, on the day of Trump’s inauguration.

Stance’s commitment to different perspectives has seen them interview the black transgender activist Janetta Johnson and a Palestinian Director called Maysaloun Hamoud, as well as unpacking alternative narratives on cults, witchcraft and North Korea. More recently, they’ve launched the experimental series Stance Takes (the first episode explores the cultural significance of Atlanta by FX. Donald Glover). “We don’t want to be part of the echo chamber,” says Heta. “We have people on that we don’t agree with – we’re always pushing ourselves to find the most interesting and unheard voices because too often they are overlooked”.

Question and Answer

What stories did the two of you engage with growing up?

Chrystal: I grew up in a Rastafarian household so I suppose there was a strong sense of identity and proudness of the other side of my heritage which wasn’t British. I loved anything to do with Bob Marley, Judy Mowatt who was part of The Wailers (in particular this song that she has called Back Woman). There was always that strong sense of I know who I am and I’m proud of who I am.

Heta: I grew up reading Roald Dahl, who I absolutely loved – The BFG and The Witches were magical. But then also I remember having a moment when I read The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi. He showed me you don’t have to be Desi and listen to Bhangra music the whole time to be Indian.

judy mowatt
"I loved anything to do with Judy Mowatt who was part of The Wailers (in particular this song that she has called Back Woman)"

Chrystal – what was your experience of working in audio and what do you like about it as a medium?

Chrystal: Sound has always been important to me. My dad was a musician and the radio was always on in our house. Straight out of university I worked as a broadcast assistant and was at the BBC for about eight years – I learned how to be a journalist and had lots of great training. I love the BBC so much and I think it’s a fantastic organisation but there are lots of issues – if you are a bit different, if you are working class like me then there’s no one around. I suppose I found those things a bit difficult (especially when I was working at Radio 4 which is very white, Oxbridge male). I just think there are so many ingrained attitudes and there’s only so much you can keep trying to explain. People don’t listen or they people will intellectualise it because they don’t want to have a conversation. I knew what I wanted to do a Stance-style thing but that wouldn’t be possible within the BBC. You can explore how they want you to explore. So I could do a piece on gun crime on the black community. But could you do something else on the black community? No.

“If you’re repeatedly not seeing yourself reflected in society and culture and things you want to consume then you get the message that your perspective isn’t valued.”

Heta, what about your background from Kids’ Company? How did that lead into your work at Stance?

Heta: I led their arts, culture and brand partnerships programme and I saw first-hand the transformative effect of arts and culture on a person’s self-worth. If you’re repeatedly not seeing yourself reflected in society and culture and things you want to consume then you get the message that your perspective isn’t valued.

Chrystal: I think it might be hard for people who are not a minority to see that. It’s also about the fact that if you see yourself reflected in certain ideas which are generally negative – coupled with not seeing yourself in powerful positions –that will just give you a sense that you don’t fit in and you’re not valued.

Was that a driver to start to Stance?

Heta: Yes it’s a question of why are people from minority backgrounds not given the opportunity to give their opinion on things? A number of different things – not just what’s relevant to their ethnic group or social class or where they live. We were basically taking the stance that your age, gender or background shouldn’t dictate the things you’re allowed to talk about. We wanted to create a platform that’s a bit more representative and audio’s been a great medium for that because you don’t know who you’re listening to. And we don’t want to be part of the echo chamber. We have people on we don’t agree with – we’re always pushing ourselves to find the most interesting and unheard voices because too often they are overlooked. We’re using our platform and creating what we wanted to see.

heta and chrystal stance
stance podcast heta and chrystal

Are there any other media that’s representing marginalised voices?

Chrystal: In mainstream media it’s very token, though I love Manveen Rana who’s a Broadcast Journalist at BBC Radio 4.

Heta: I think we’re mainly seeing it in people who are starting things themselves like us, thinking ‘nobody’s doing it so let’s create it’. I love Deeyah Khan who started Sisterhood which is a platform for Muslim women to tell stories as well as gal-dem, Azeema and Riposte.

Who have been some of your most insightful interviewees and why have their perspectives been important?

Heta: I loved speaking to Janetta Johnson who’s a black transgender activist in San Fran. We interviewed her about a piece on the female prison experience and I was really moved by her account. On Tuesdays she does letter writing sessions to all the black transgender women stuck in male prisons and who are being abused. Many of them are disconnected from their communities, there’s no one there to wait for them on the other side so she’s giving them a community and saying ‘we care about you’ . I loved Gina Miller as well – just hearing the human side of her story which you don’t really get from any other media.

Chrystal: I interviewed Maysaloun Hamoud. She’s a director of Palestinian heritage but lives in Israel and was born and grew up in Hungary. Her first film called In-Between tells the story of three Palestinian women living in Israel in Tel Aviv. The women were just so different – some them take drugs, one was a lesbian DJ, one quite religious. These are the stories you don’t hear about. And we also did an episode called home where we looked at Grenfell, the Rohingya crisis and Venezuela.

janetta johnson
"I loved speaking to Janetta Johnson who’s a black transgender activist in San Fran"

How is Stance evolving?

Chrystal: We’ve started doing Stance productions for brands. They like the way we’re telling authentic stories. So if you’re a brand then rather than a powerpoint, why don’t you have an audio conversation that staff can listen to?

What three novels would you like every young women to read?

Chrystal: Swing Time by Zadie Smith.

Heta: NW is one of my favourite books of all time. I grew up in northwest London and even the way she describes the bus route and what you see out the window was just like that’s bang on! It’s so nice to see in literary form. Arundhati Roy is a huge idol of mine –  I love the slowness of it. Obviously the time that she took to write her second book but also the slowness and the way she describe slow life in India is spot-on. Everything she writes just lifts your senses.

arundhati roy
"Everything Arundhati Roy writes just lifts your senses"
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