William Nicholas Selig
1898 / USA / 30 sek / Stumfilm
Rediscovered in 2017 by film archivist Dino Everett and identified by Allyson Nadia Field in 2018, Something Good —
Negro Kiss is the first known film showing African American affection.
The film was shot by William Selig in his Chicago studio in 1898 and features vaudeville and minstrel performers Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown. At the time, Suttle and Brown were touring the Midwest with John and Maud Brewer as the “Rag-Time Four.” They were known in particular for their skills in a variation of the cake walk known as the “cake dance” —featured in Selig’s Cake Walk shot at the same time as Something Good — Negro Kiss.
Something Good — Negro Kiss was made as a “burlesque” on the famous John C. Rice – May Irwin Kiss produced by Edison in 1896. While exhibitors would have presumed an inherent novelty in African American actors riffing off the popularity of the Rice – Irwin kiss, Something Good arguably refutes its racist framing. The display of affection between Suttle and Brown is striking in its tenderness and joy rather than exaggerated caricature. As such, the film is remarkable for its naturalistic representation and uncharacteristic for early cinema’s depictions of Black people (typically white actors in blackface make-up) as it featured professional African American theatrical performers. Everett restored the original surviving nitrate print and the film was named to the 2018 National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress, a list that showcases the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation.
Allyson Nadia Field
The University of Chicago
Something Good Negro Kiss (1898, Selig) courtesy of USC Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive