They are on screen for less than 30 seconds, a couple in simple embrace. The man, dressed in a suit and bowtie, and the woman in a frilled dress. They hug and kiss, swing wide their clasped hands, and kiss again.
Titled Something Good-Negro Kiss, the newly discovered silent film from 1898 is believed to be the earliest cinematic depiction of African-American affection. Thanks to scholars at the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California, the footage is prompting a rethinking of early film history.
The film was announced Dec. 12 as a new addition to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry—one of 25 selected for their enduring importance to American culture, along with Jurassic Park, Brokeback Mountain and The Shining. The 29-second clip is free of stereotypes and racist caricatures, a stark contrast from the majority of black performances at the turn of the century.