The Kiss (1896) is among the most iconic artifacts of American cinema; yet, the film has long puzzled film scholars. At the advent of cinema, why did audiences respond to this seemingly simple kiss with extreme visceral reactions such as hysterical laughter or condemnation of the film as pornography? This paper reconsiders The Kiss in light of the recently rediscovered Something Good—Negro Kiss (1898) placing both these films in relation to actor-director Olga Nethersole’s queer influence on turn-of-the-twentieth-century popular culture. Leaning on foundational texts by Charles Musser, Linda Williams, and Siobhan Somerville and drawing on recent work by Susan Potter, Allyson Nadia Field, and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, this paper intervenes in the “presumed innocent” discourse of sexuality during the novelty film period. I argue that The Kiss was so controversial because the sex act it stood in for was a queer act, a lesbian kiss.

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