The Disappearance of Shere Hite, a cogent documentary that argues for the late intercourse researcher’s contributions to the feminist motion, begins with a bracing information clip from 1976: Hite, her signature strawberry blonde curls tied in a low ponytail, responds coolly to a feminine information interviewer’s query about her ebook’s concentrate on masturbation. Hite calls the recognition of masturbation among the many hundreds of American ladies she surveyed a “trigger for celebration”, because it reveals that ladies know how one can have orgasms when and the way they need. Minimize to 1994, Hite with one other information interviewer shocked at Hite’s frankness 18 years earlier than – her confidence on the language and centrality of feminine sexuality was startling then, and nonetheless invigorating now.
The Hite Report, as her groundbreaking 1976 survey of hundreds of ladies’s particular person sexual experiences was referred to as, is based on the movie (and to the shock of some who helped publish it) the thirtieth bestselling ebook of all time, however it’s unlikely you’ll discover it talked about amongst youthful feminists at the moment. The almost two-hour movie from director Nicole Newnham (additionally behind 2020’s Oscar-nominated Crip Camp) interrogates that absence. It persuasively makes the case that Hite, who argued that the majority ladies can’t orgasm from penetrative intercourse alone, deserves renewed recognition as a feminist trailblazer, significantly within the still-fraught enviornment of sexual politics, self-knowledge and liberation.
The movie opens in medias res, when the younger Hite, who died in 2020 after a protracted sickness, strikes to New York as a poor graduate pupil within the late 60s. Hite’s journals, learn in at occasions awkward voiceover by govt producer Dakota Johnson, reveal a fiery mental ardour and painful self-awareness. Determined for cash to fund her educational pursuits and stifled by the chauvinism of male-dominated Columbia, she turns to modeling for cash and the ladies’s lib motion for goal. (Each her modeling pictures – Hite had a doe-like, pre-Raphaelite magnificence, even in Playboy photographs – and archival footage of feminist protests and conferences present the movie ample and pleasurable visible materials.) Hite’s surveys – she queried over 15,000 nameless ladies in her lifetime, based on the postscript – grew out of her participation within the 70s feminist scene. She was a pal of Flo Kennedy’s and affiliate of the Nationwide Group for Ladies, with a sort of gamine glamour that mirrored Gloria Steinem.
Newnham’s movie ably conveys the rise and fall of Hite’s popularity within the US. She began as a firebrand wanting to spar with those that dismissed her findings or, as demonstrated in quite a few teeth-grinding clips, seen ladies’s skill (or biology) to orgasm with out intercourse threatening to males, and hardened into a celeb haunted by destructive press. The latter half of the movie, which covers Hite’s much less profitable surveys on women and men’s concepts on love in addition to her self-imposed exile to Europe, makes an attempt a swift abstract of the rise of the spiritual proper and conservative backlash to sexual rights. It really works, assuming that the viewer has some background data of American political historical past to fill within the broad sweep.
The Disappearance of Shere Hite echoes quite a few different movies which have reconsidered media remedy of public ladies, particularly those that challenged inflexible cultural roles for ladies – Lorena Bobbitt, Tonya Harding, Britney Spears, Monica Lewinsky and Pamela Anderson, amongst others. The speaking heads attest to Hite’s private emotions about criticism of her methodology and defensiveness of her findings, however the archival tv clips converse for themselves: an ambush interview by Maury Povich; a condescending Australian interviewer who mocks her anger when she walks out; the goal of literal finger pointing at an Oprah taping with a wholly male viewers (even Oprah appears to appreciate, within the second, that the stunt was a nasty thought.) Who wouldn’t really feel annoyed?
Nonetheless, the movie may’ve stood to press somewhat more durable into Hite’s methodology and complex popularity with out discrediting her work. As full-throated because the sexism was in opposition to her, to the purpose the place she misplaced her ebook deal and spent her later years with vaguely mentioned cash issues, absolutely there was substance to some criticism of her work’s limitations. Dialogue of that wouldn’t undercut her legacy, which is convincingly argued on this in the end absorbing portrait of a posh, at occasions contradictory lady – shy and flamboyant, unyielding and wounded, a truth-seeker who deserves resurged acknowledgement.