14 Days of Love: ‘Something Good—Negro Kiss’ (1898)

A man and woman dance in a still from 'Something Good—Negro Kiss' (1898)

Valentine’s Day may be a rather silly holiday, but it is a wonderful excuse to celebrate love and romance in the movies. In that spirit, check back each day leading up to February 14th for a cinematic advent calendar of recommendations presented as mini-reviews.

Day 1: Something Good—Negro Kiss (1898)
Dir. William Selig
Saint Suttle, Gertie Brown

A man and woman dance in a still from 'Something Good—Negro Kiss' (1898)

Logline:
A Black couple hug, kiss, and share a tender moment. 

Why you should watch:
The scene lasts hardly 20 seconds, but it is nonetheless one of the purest distillations of affection caught on camera. A Black man and woman kiss, embrace, dance, and simply share a moment of fondness. Shot by pioneering filmmaker William Selig, Something Good—Negro Kiss is emblematic of the “actuality” shorts of the day, those early stabs at documentary from the likes of the Lumière Brothers and Thomas Edison. The profound difference here though is that Selig, flying in the face of the  late-19th-century American norm, chose to turn the camera on Black love. None of the painful stereotypes and racist caricatures of minstrel performances or other early filmmaking are present here. Instead, Sanit Suttle and Gertie Brown open themselves up to the camera at a time when public displays of Black love were met with vitriol and violence. 

Even taken simply at the value of what is on screen, the obvious warmth between them is infectious. No matter how many times I rewatch the short I always end up with a giant smile on my face. There is no sweeping romantic narrative, blustering strings and brass in the background, or more than one camera angle, but it does not matter. Something Good—Negro Kiss contains the pure essence of what cinematic romance can achieve: capturing unabashed closeness on film. You do not need to know anything about these two people to sense how they care. The full-throated enfolding of their embrace. The lovely bit of self-consciousness as Brown looks away from Suttle. You can read all about the incredible discovery of this almost lost film, and I suggest you do, yet I also think context is unnecessary to bask in the comfort this short radiates. 

Something Good—Negro Kiss is the purest cinematic essence of love, and I can think of no finer place to start two weeks of celebrating romance on-screen than with this absolute gem.

Where you can watch: 

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