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It's been widely stated that the Star Trek episode "Plato's Stepchildren", airing on 22 November 1968, had "the very first televised interracial kiss", which was between Kirk (William Shatner) and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols). For instance, the Huffington Post said (empahsis mine):

Nichols stayed with “Star Trek,” and it’s a good thing she did — otherwise she may not have had a chance to make history again by being part of the very first televised interracial kiss, with Capt. Kirk, no less.

Plato's Stepchildren kiss

Was this really TV's first interracial kiss? Were there any lesser-known interracial kisses that might have predated it?

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    I'd only ever heard the claim made about US TV. You're aware that other countries had TV, too? Also, in a US context, depends whether we understand 'interracial' as meaning only black-white. – smci Jul 30 '16 at 21:34
  • @smci The Huffington Post didn't define whether their claim was US or not, but I think it's pretty clear from the answer below that the first definitely was not in the US, and that there were others in the US regardless of how you define "interracial." – Thunderforge Jul 31 '16 at 0:22
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    I know that. I was speaking to the OP and others who post questions containing US-only assumptions, not the answerers. And also, the term 'interracial' tends to mean different things in different countries. – smci Jul 31 '16 at 0:55
  • If anyone thinks this claim is unusual, people even claim that Xena: Warrior Princess was the first case of a white woman kissing a non-white man. – Andrew Grimm Jul 31 '16 at 7:46
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    @smci, well in this case, the OP and answerer are one in the same since it's a self-answered question. I think there were a number of people though that were unaware of the British shows and thought that Star Trek was the first interracial kiss worldwide though. This question and answer hopefully addresses that concern too. – Thunderforge Jul 31 '16 at 16:09
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+1000

No, it was not the first

There are a couple of reasons for initial suspicion of this claim.

  • Reviews of the episode when it first aired did not comment on the fact that it was the first interracial kiss, nor seem all that bothered by it.
  • References to it being the first didn't show up until many years later.

So what was the first?

First ever on TV (Hispanic?/Caucasian)

I Love Lucy (first episode airing October 15, 1951) featured Desi Arnaz, an Hispanic male, and Lucille Ball, a Caucasian woman, frequently kissing each other.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz kissing

However, Desi Arnaz was often seen as white with Hispanic ancestry, so this may not count.

First ever on TV (African/Caucasian)

The British Film Institute found footage an earlier interracial kiss from the television play You in Your Small Corner, broadcast on 5 June 1962. When footage was discovered in November 2015, it was declared to be the earliest surviving footage of an interracial kiss on TV.

You in Your Small Corner interracial kiss

This footage was found as part of investigation for a BFI panel on race and romance, and during the panel it was announced that an even earlier interracial kiss was found. Hot Summer Night, another stage play, aired 1 February 1959 as part of the British anthology series Armchair Theatre. This included a kiss between Jack 'Jacko' Palmer (John Slater) and Nell Palmer (Ruth Dunning), who are African and Caucasian respectively.

Hot Summer Night first interracial kiss on TV

First ever on ongoing TV

A July 1964 episode of British soap opera Emergency – Ward 10 had Louise Mahler (portrayed by Joan Hooley, a Jamaican) and Giles Farmer (portrayed by John White, an Englishman) kiss.

Emergency – Ward 10 interracial kiss

First ever on American TV

The Wild Wild West episode "The Night the Dragon Screamed" aired on 14 January 1966 and had Jim West (Robert Conrad) kiss Princess Ching Ling (Pilar Seurat). The former is Caucasian, the latter is a Filipina playing a Chinese princess.

First ever African/Caucasian on American TV

Movin' with Nancy aired on December 11, 1967 an had a kiss between Nancy Sinatra (Caucasian) and Sammy Davis Jr. (African).

Movin' with Nancy interracial kiss

First ever with William Shatner!

Believe it or not, Captain Kirk himself has had an interracial kiss on TV before Nichols. He kissed Pilar Seurat (a Filipina) in the Naked City episode "Without Stick or Sword", airing 28 March 1962.

William Shatner interracial kiss Naked City

However, Shatner is playing the role of Burmese sailor Maung Tun, believe it or not. So this is not an example of the characters having an interracial kiss.

First ever on Star Trek

Yes, even Star Trek had an interracial kiss before Kirk and Uhura. The episode "Mirror, Mirror", airing 6 October 1967, had Kirk (William Shatner) kiss Marlena Moreau (BarBara Luna), whom All Movie lists as being "of Hungarian-Philippine heritage".

Kirk and Marlena Moreau

This was over a year before "Plato's Stepchildren" aired on 22 November 1968.

Final Thoughts

There's definitely some wiggle room for what counts as "interracial", but it's pretty clear that there are a number of examples of interracial kisses before Star Trek, including ones with Caucasian and African actors.

You could say that Kirk and Uhura's kiss is "the first Caucasian/African kiss on Star Trek" or "the first interracial kiss on Star Trek between main characters", but certainly not "the first interracial kiss on TV".

Sources:

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    That's a lot of examples, but only because the question has been interpreted so broadly. Normally I assume we mean US TV not world TV (many examples are from the UK where the issues of race are very different). And you use a broad interpretation of race. I always assumed that the context implied black-white kissing (caucasian-african) not hispanic/asian/other non-black racial group. On this interpretation you have one (possibly dodgy) example (the Nancy Sinatra one). – matt_black Jul 27 '16 at 16:35
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    @matt_black I've edited the question to clarify that we're asking about the very broad claim made that it was "the very first televised interracial kiss", which to me doesn't imply American. Besides, the BFI institute used similar wording to describe their find of You in Your Small Corner, again not implying American. As I said, there is definitely wiggle room when talking about what counts as "interracial". I'm not going to get into an argument there, but I think it's pretty clear that it's not Kirk and Uhura. – Thunderforge Jul 27 '16 at 16:47
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    In the US, under law, Hispanics can be of any race, so Desi Arnaz could be considered fully Hispanic and fully White, and his kiss and marriage with Lucille Ball would not have been shocking the way a Black-White kiss or marriage might have been. – prosfilaes Jul 28 '16 at 6:14
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    "the latter is a Filipino playing an Asian." This seems funny to me. Aren't the Philippines generally considered to be part of Asia? It's not mainland Asia, of course, but it's not far off the coast. Northern Luzon is closer to mainland Asia than Tokyo is. – reirab Jul 28 '16 at 15:45
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I have an old Star Trek book at home from one of their conventions. (Found it in an old book store and bought it because it has a picture of the Enterprise done in ascii characters) In there they talk about the kiss and how everyone on set was sort of playing around to lighten the mood. Then when they went to shoot the scene, the directors got a bit worried about the public backlash for an interracial kiss so in reality..

They didn't really kiss, just got close enough to look like it on TV.

Given that sort of information, can it even be counted as an on screen kiss?

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    This feels a weak line of argument to me. If you talked about "the first murder on TV", you wouldn't discount a TV show where someone only acted a murder, but off-screen the victim wasn't really dead. If it appeared to the TV audience to be a kiss, then it was a kiss on TV. – IMSoP Jul 28 '16 at 15:43
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    @IMSoP the social context surrounding the kiss makes whether it was real or faked just as important. – cde Jul 28 '16 at 18:47
  • And here I thought Kirk was just a rigid lipped kisser. – Eric Jul 29 '16 at 21:37
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    According to Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), they did actually kiss – Izkata Jul 30 '16 at 18:46

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