Watch the First-Ever Kiss on Film Between Two Black Actors, Just Honored by the Library of Congress (1898)

In 1896, Thomas Edi­son pro­duced The Kiss. One of the first films ever com­mer­cial­ly screened, it adapts the then-pop­u­lar musi­cal The Wid­ow Jones — or at least it adapts about twen­ty sec­onds of it, a kiss that hap­pens in the very last scene. Two years lat­er came the equal­ly short but dif­fer­ent­ly ground­break­ing Some­thing Good – Negro Kiss, a ver­sion of The Kiss star­ring black actors instead of white ones. Only now, thanks in part to the efforts of Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia archivist Dino Everett and Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Cin­e­ma and Media Stud­ies pro­fes­sor Allyson Nadia Field, has it received prop­er recog­ni­tion as the first such kiss on film.

“To uncov­er the ori­gins of Everett’s footage, Field relied on inven­to­ry and dis­tri­b­u­tion cat­a­logs, trac­ing the film to Chica­go,” writes UChica­go News’ Jack Wang. “This was where William Selig —a  vaude­ville per­former turned film pro­duc­er — had shot it on his knock­off of a Lumière Ciné­matographe. That cam­era pro­duced the tell­tale per­fo­ra­tion marks which had tipped Everett off to the print’s age.”

With sup­port from the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art, writes Hyper­al­ler­gic’s Jas­mine Weber, “Field not only iden­ti­fied the film­mak­er, but the per­form­ers: Saint Sut­tle and Ger­tie Brown. Sut­tle is dressed in a dap­per suit and bowtie, while Brown dons an ornate dress — cos­tumes that Field says were typ­i­cal of min­strel per­form­ers.”

“What makes this film so remark­able is that if you look at films from this peri­od that fea­ture African-Amer­i­cans, first of all, most of them are white actors in black­face,” says Field in the NPR seg­ment above. “They are car­i­ca­tures. They’re cer­tain­ly racist. They fea­ture racist tropes like water­mel­on-eat­ing con­tests and things like that. The Amer­i­can screen was incred­i­bly hos­tile to African-Amer­i­cans for much of its his­to­ry,” but Some­thing Good — Negro Kiss “refutes those kind of car­i­ca­tures and asserts an image of human­i­ty and of love.”

That image has received quite a response on the inter­net as the clip has cir­cu­lat­ed in the week since its induc­tion into the Library of Con­gress’ Nation­al Film Reg­istry along­side the likes of The Shin­ingMon­terey PopBroke­back Moun­tainThe Lady from Shang­hai, and Juras­sic Park. One lawyer-slash-crit­ic even brought this piece of ear­ly cin­e­ma togeth­er with a piece of cur­rent cin­e­ma, mash­ing it up with the score of Bar­ry Jenk­ins’ just-released James Bald­win adap­ta­tion If Beale Street Could Talk. Selig, Sut­tle, and Brown must have known full well that they were mak­ing some­thing new. But did they know they were also mak­ing his­to­ry?

via Quartz

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the Pio­neer­ing Films of Oscar Micheaux, America’s First Great African-Amer­i­can Film­mak­er

African-Amer­i­can His­to­ry: Mod­ern Free­dom Strug­gle (A Free Course from Stan­ford)

Mas­sive New Data­base Will Final­ly Allow Us to Iden­ti­fy Enslaved Peo­ples and Their Descen­dants in the Amer­i­c­as

Down­load Dig­i­tized Copies of The Negro Trav­el­ers’ Green Book, the Pre-Civ­il Rights Guide to Trav­el­ing Safe­ly in the U.S. (1936–66)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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