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January 2, 2019

Something Good – Negro Kiss (1898): The Earliest On-Screen Kiss Between African Americans

Something Good – Negro Kiss is a short film from 1898, that was added to the American National Film Registry in 2018. It is believed to be the earliest on-screen kiss involving African Americans and is noted for departing from the prevalent and purely stereotypical presentation of racist caricature in popular culture at the time it was made.

Image of Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown embrace in 1898 silent film “Something Good – Negro Kiss,” a depiction of genuine black affection that stands out from a cinematic era filled with stereotypes and racist caricatures.

The film was recently rediscovered and restored by University of Southern California archivist Dino Everett after it was found amongst a Louisiana film collector’s collection.

The film was made in Chicago by director and producer William Selig, a film pioneer, who also had prior experience with staged minstrel shows. He used his own version of a Lumière Cinématographe camera to shoot Something Good. Selig distributed the Selig Polyscope Company film through the Sears & Roebuck mail order catalog.

In Something Good, a well-dressed African American couple exchange several kisses. Between kisses they hold and swing each other hands and laugh together. The chemistry between the actors is described as “palpable,” conveying an “unmistakable sense of naturalness, pleasure, and amusement.”

When it was produced, it was likely presented with other shorts as a comedy vignette, a take-off on the 1896 film, The Kiss. Something Good starred stage entertainers, Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown. Suttle was a composer for popular theater and Brown a vaudeville circuit actress. The two also performed as dance partners. They were part of a group known as the Rag-time Four, who performed variations on the popular cakewalk dance. They may have been at the film studio to perform in a cakewalk vignette.

The title, Something Good – Negro Kiss is said to have been a subversion of anti-Black propaganda at that time.



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