Sometimes a kiss is more than just a kiss.
That’s certainly the case with the lip-lock in “Something Good – Negro Kiss,” an 1898 short silent film that was added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in December for its historic significance, alongside such films as “Jurassic Park” and “The Shining.”
The clip ― showing a couple playfully kissing and clasping hands ― is free of the demeaning racist tropes seen in other depictions of Black people at the time.
“It wasn’t racist caricature, not blackface performance, not comedic ridicule,” said University of Chicago’s Allyson Nadia Field, an expert on Black cinema who helped identify the film and its historical significance.
“The actors appeared joyful and genuine in their affection,” she told HuffPost. “It looks like they’re having fun! And they’re not the butt of any joke or the punchline. This makes the film a rare early cinema artifact.”
Clocking in at under 29 seconds, the clip opens with the couple mid-kiss. The man, ragtime composer and performer Saint Suttle, jovially swings his partner, actress Gertie Brown, around before going in for another kiss, then a few more.
It’s the naturalness and sweetness of the actors’ interaction that moved Field.
“It’s a kiss kiss. They kiss four times! I’d never seen a set of kisses that were so passionate and playful in early cinema,” she said. “It feels improvised, not staged, as if we’re privy to the humor between them but without the sense that it’s manufactured for us.”
The footage was unearthed by University of Southern California archivist Dino Everett, who found the 19th-century nitrate print in a batch of silent films he had bought from a Louisiana collector about three years earlier.
Film aficionados will notice that it’s a loose reinterpretation of Thomas Edison’s 1896 “The Kiss,” which showed the very first on-screen kiss and was one of the first films to be publicly shown.
“I am glad to see this was captured, especially when you consider the era when these frames were shot,” he said. “The clip symbolizes how human love is universal. I hope they uncover similar images featuring people from other communities.”
The clip got Twitter talking, including “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins, who said the rare find left him speechless.
“As an educator that fights for her scholars to see themselves reflected in more than trauma and monoliths, I am enamored by this film,” she told HuffPost.
“I search the web, books, and archives for depictions of our tribulations and our triumphs,” she added. “When I look at this clip, I see the nuance of who we are, and the variation we’ve always been despite what the history books show you.”
Black love ― the simple notion that black couples exist comfortably in their culture and in their affection for each other ― has always been around, even if cameras weren’t focused on it. This clip serves to remind us of that, Buddington said.
“We have loved, before the ability to capture it in this way, before the written word,” she said. “We will do so until the end of time.”