It is often said that the first interracial kiss on TV was the (involuntary) kiss between Captain James Tiberius Kirk (William Shatner) and translator and communications officer Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) in the Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” that was broadcast on the 22nd of November 1968 at ten PM in the evening.
This is not the case.
Sorry Captain Kirk, I guess you don’t like seeing my tweets correcting that myth showing up on Twitter a lot, or maybe it was me suggesting we’d ask the writers of the show if they meant it to be political or not…
Maybe he also just doesn’t like being reminded of the fact that the Star Trek kiss wasn’t the first interracial kiss, even though he mentioned it in his autobiography ‘Up Till Now’.
For clarity we’ll first have to agree on what ‘interracial’ means because some people seem to think it is only involves a black and white person, but it doesn’t;
So it involves two people of different ‘races’, not just black & white.
How we define ‘races’ is more complicated and differs per culture it seems, it is after all a social construct and one that changes over time as cultures change. And how things are seen in one country can be judged differently in another.
You’ll find this discussed elsewhere in the article as well.
Technically you could argue that the kisses between humans and aliens in ‘Star Trek’ were also interracial, but let’s leave those out of the discussion.
Interestingly enough there was an interracial kiss between two women in an 1966 Star Trek episode! ( Uhura kisses Nurse Chapel in episode; ‘What are little girls made of’) and Kirk himself had kissed Lt. Marlena Moreau (Eurasian heritage).
Kirk also kissed Filipino BarBara Luna, French-Vietnamese France Nuyen and Sulu kisses Uhura her neck in earlier episodes.
But besides this, there had been other interracial kisses on TV before the kiss between Kirk and Uhura.
It was not the first interracial kiss on TV, it was not even the first interracial kiss on US TV and it was not even the first interracial kiss between humans on Star Trek.
And when is a kiss a kiss, is a peck on the cheek good enough or does only mouth on mouth action count?
The real first interracial kiss on TV, be it global, be it just in the US, is still heavily debated.
But at this moment there are a few contenders that all pre-date the Kirk-Uhura kiss.
In 1951 Lucille Ball (European ancestry) and Desi Arnaz (Cuban-American) kissed on screen in the TV-show ‘I love Lucy’.
Yes, this is a controversial contender, some people claim that their marriage was not interracial.
But we have to keep in mind that we’re talking about 1950s America here, CBS management at the time was adamantly opposed to having Lucy married to a Cuban, especially one with such a strong accent, he was “too ethnic”.
According to Kathleen Brady’s book “Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball“, also the sponsor Philip Morris cigarettes, protested, they said that the American public would not accept Desi as the husband of a red-blooded American girl.
By law Desi was technically white and their marriage wasn’t a problem in that respect, but on an immigration document from 1939 his race is described as Cuban while on his military personnel file he’s described as white.
Today the US census would describe Desi as a white male of Cuban ancestry but some people still consider Desi & Lucy an interracial couple today.
And just like the kiss in Star Trek, seeing people of different backgrounds like Desi & Lucy in TV was very important to countless people watching these shows who themselves where in mixed marriages or the result of one.
So technically they may not have been an interracial couple but they’re often brought up when this subject is discussed so I felt the article would be incomplete without at least mentioning it.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide if their kiss counts.
One interesting side note here is that the production company Desilu Productions, founded by Desi and Lucy, was involved in developing and producing the Star Trek franchise up to the second season and thus made the episode with the kiss between Uhura and Kirk possible.
Either way, even if we decide not to accept this kiss as being interracial (enough), there are other contenders that were all broadcast before the infamous Star Trek episode.
Another contender interestingly enough also involves William Shatner!
On the 16th of November 1958 at 7pm the cast of the stage play ‘The World of Suzie Wong‘ performed a scene on the Ed Sullivan Show.
The scene ends with William Shatner and France Nuyen kissing each other on the mouth, something that interestingly doesn’t appear in Mr. Shatner’s autobiography.
You can watch the full episode by clicking ‘here.
Another White/Asian interracial kiss on US TV Nobu McCarthy and Lloyd Bridges in the episode ‘Proof of Guilt’ of the show ‘Sea Hunt’, broadcast on the 16th of August 1959 at 9pm.
You can watch the full episode by clicking here.
The first White/Black interracial kiss on US TV I could find was between Joan Crawford and the host Sammy Davis Junior during the 17th Primetime Emmy Awards, broadcast at 10pm on the 12th of September 1965.
Crawford was there to receive the award for Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt and she made sure to give Davis a peck on the cheek, yes, just a peck, but it was a kiss, between a black man and a white woman, on American TV and between two stars.
You can see the clip with sound by clicking here.
Two years later Sammy Davis Junior shared a kiss again, this time in a TV special called ‘Movin’ with Nancy’ with Nancy Sinatra which was broadcast on the 11th of December 1967.
You can watch the full video by clicking here.
But outside of the USA there had been interracial kisses on TV as well.
In the UK in soap opera Emergency – Ward 10 an interracial kiss was exchanged between John White and Joan Hooley and broadcast on July 1964.
Although it the first time a white man kissed a black woman on TV anywhere, it was not the first interracial kiss.
On June 5th 1962 a show called ‘You in your small corner‘ which was broadcast on ITV, it too showed an interracial kiss between actors Lloyd Reckord and Elizabeth MacLennan, this one is often credited as being the first interracial kiss on TV but wasn’t.
A very close second place for the first interracial kiss between a black and white person ever broadcast on TV anywhere, goes for a show called ITV’s “(ABC) Armchair Theatre“, an adaptation of Ted Willis’s play Hot Summer Night, which was broadcast on the 1st of February 1959.
In this episode there was a passionate, non-forced, romantic interracial kiss between actors Lloyd Reckord and Andrée Melly.
But the real first interracial kiss between a black and light skinned person on television anywhere, that I managed to find was broadcast a month earlier, on the 5th of January 1959, at about 20:30 (prime time) there was a kiss between actors Donald Jones who was born in the United States, and Roekie Aronds in the episode ‘Beeldromance‘ in the Dutch TV show ‘Pension Hommeles‘, one of my countries most popular programs ever, at a time when there were only 100.000 tv sets in the Netherlands.
Yet somehow everybody saw it as people would visit the neighbours in their street who had a set and watch it together.
Dutch newspapers of the time suggest there was no controversy or backlash as a result of the kiss, quite the opposite, reviews were positive.
Although the kiss was not as passionate as some of the other contenders, it clearly was romantic and more than just an innocent peck.
It would have been problematic on American television.
You can watch the complete video by clicking here.
So which kiss we can consider to be the first interracial kiss on television depends on how we personally or culturally define interracial and if we think some of these kisses count or not.
The main contenders currently are;
- 1951, ‘I love Lucy’, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
- 1958, ‘Ed Sullivan Show’, William Shatner and France Nuyen.
- 1959, ”Pension Hommeles’, Donald Jones and Roekie Aronds
- 1959, ‘ABC’s Armchair Theatre’, Lloyd Reckord and Andrée Melly.
On a side note; the Star Trek kiss also didn’t cause much of a stir at the time, it barely got any (negative) attention at all.
Negative between brackets because it did get positive attention, besides the huge cultural impact it had then and still has, the show did get fan mail especially because of this episode.
And we can’t underestimate the influence it had on many viewers, there is a reason this kiss has been remembered and praised for such a long time and it not being the first one doesn’t take that away.
It inspired countless people and for many black Americans it was the first time they even saw a positive role model that looked like them who had an important function, was a hero, was tough, cool and who inspired.
We should not underestimate the huge importance of the show and that kiss to a lot of people.
And of course it shall always be the first kiss between a black woman and a white man in space on tv.
The episode was taken off the air in some places but that was mostly because of some of the rather violent scenes, not the kiss.
Some people may think that correcting the Star Trek first kiss myth is devaluing this important television moment, taking away from a milestone by being pedantic.
Of course I am just trying to make sure historical facts are being truthfully presented but I also feel that by ignoring earlier kisses we are devaluing those historical milestones.
Although we can’t really compare the situation in 1960s America and 1950s Britain when it comes to race relations it was still a huge deal in the UK as well when a black man kissed a white woman.
History was being made and these occasions should also be properly be represented.
By only telling one story you ignore another, one that deserves to be told.
Credit where credit’s due.
Hollywood achieved this milestone before television did.
The oldest interracial kiss on the Silver Screen I could find was when a white man played by Gilbert M. Anderson kissed a black woman, probably the wonderful Bertha Regustus, as far back as 1903 in Edison short ‘What happened in the tunnel‘ – 1903;
Of course it is a peck, but nevertheless it is a kiss and earlier than other contenders such as A Florida Enchantment (1914) (women in drag and ‘blackface’), The Greatest Thing in Life (1918) (Interracial Same-Sex Kiss), Pinky (1949) (white man passionately kissing black woman), Island in the Sun (1957) (not much of a kiss, if any), A Patch of Blue (1965) (first black man kissing a white woman in a movie) or The Ωmega Man (1971).
You can watch the full film by clicking here.
You may also be interested in reading the article about the claims made about the first same sex kisses on TV that you can read by clicking here.
- Was I Love Lucy ahead of it’s time? by Raj Tawney
- Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball by Kathleen Brady
- TV Schedule 1968
- Complete ‘Pension Hommeles’ episode ‘Beeldromance’
- Fade to Black and White: Interracial Images in Popular Culture (Perspectives on a Multiracial America), by Erica Chito Childs
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