Kim Hester Williams - "Minstrel Acts"

hesterwilliams.pngKim Hester Williams is a Professor of English whose scholarly research concerns racial representation in the media, particularly the figure of the "magic negro" in film and in popular culture.

Her monograph, "Minstrel Acts: Black Pain and White Redemption" examines the historical trajectory of the "magical negro" figure from Harriet Beecher Stowe's best-selling nineteenth-century novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, to contemporary twentieth and twenty-first century popular representations of the "the magic negro" such as in films starring Queen Latifah, Will Smith, and Denzel Washington, as well as in the novels and films of Stephen King, most notably The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.

Hester Williams argues, in the concluding chapter of "Minstrel Acts," that popular media and political figures like Oprah Winfrey and President Barack Obama become objects of racial desire and redemption.

That is, these fictional and "real-life" figures are seen as "saviors" and thus imbued by the "consuming" public with "mystical" qualities that are interpreted as transformative and politically progressive. Yet, the imaginative reception of these figures also helps to sustain neoliberal market culture and economy.

Hester Williams maintains that the trope of "magical negro" black figuration "promotes privatized narratives of race, slavery, and identity that are conscripted by the logic of neoliberal capitalism and, as such, further promote the myth of meritocracy by subsuming the continuities and realities of race and economy in the twenty-first century."

She further states that, "this is in juxtaposition to the black feminist tradition of expressing and insisting on self-representation, self-determination and agency, family, community, interdependence, and political transgression and transformation that is expressed by African American women writers such as Alice Walker, June Jordan, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, and Ocatvia Butler, to name just a few.

As one pointed example, Octavia Butler's novel, Wildseed, represents the imaginative expression of hybridity and community that forms an alternative function of human culture and society, one that is more expansive and inclusive and that, ultimately, necessitates the critique of capitalist logic in lieu of the alternate transformative power of community and collectivism."

Hester Williams' analysis on media, gender, and race has been cited in numerous academic essays as well as referenced in books on media, gender, and race including Mixed Raced Hollywood, edited by Camilla Fojas and Mary Beltran and The Films of Stephen King and most recently in Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present by Robin R. Means Coleman and Black Men Worshipping: Intersecting Anxieties of Race, Gender, and Christian Embodiment by Stacy C. Boyd.

Her previous essays have also been taught in courses at the University of Washington, the University of California at San Diego, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Cal Poly in a course on Graduate Media Studies, and included in a course, "Post-Colonial Perspectives on Audiovisual Media," at the Stockholm University department of Cinema Studies.

Hester Williams teaches nineteenth-century American literature and African American literature and culture. She also teaches courses in the department of American Multicultural Studies and has, as well, taught courses in Women and Gender Studies.

In addition to her scholarly work, she writes poetry, much of which is feminist-centered and follows in the long tradition of African American female poets from Lucy Terry to Lucille Clifton and Nikky Finney.

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