The title makes this documentary sound far more exciting that it actually is, so those expecting a truly wild ride will be disappointed in “The Disappearance of Shere Hite,” a comprehensive yet surprisingly dry look at the life of the bestselling sex researcher. While this portrayal of Hite’s life story may come across as dull, she caused major waves with the 1976 publication of her groundbreaking study that surveyed the secret sexual habits of women titled “The Hite Report.” Director Nicole Newnham‘s film makes a deep dive into the life story of this intellectual, bisexual artist and author in a compelling piece of feminist cinema.
Narrated by Dakota Johnson as Hite, Newnham uses Hite’s own words to tell her story (as well as interviews with her friends and those who knew her best). Johnson reads from Hite’s diary, books, and letters, eschewing her dislike of the sexist world of modeling, advertising, and academia. It should go without saying that the film features explicit dialogue, heavy sexual content, and frank, honest discussions about sex, so those easily offended will want to skip this one. For anyone with a natural curiosity and interest in learning about one of the most influential women to ever challenge society’s female sexuality myths, this documentary provides a detailed education
Hite’s first book focused solely on female sexuality (her second, male) and was comprised of nationwide anonymous survey responses from random, real people. By answering questions in this manner, it allowed respondents to be refreshingly and completely honest and open. This painted a truthful picture that challenged the restrictive, traditional ideas of sex, sparking a dialogue about women’s pleasure, and empowering women to learn about their own bodies and take control of their suppressed sexuality. Unsurprisingly, this made waves, especially in more conservative circles.
Hite’s surveys exposed something that really hit a nerve, especially with men who became frightened and threatened just by the idea of women having any sort of power (sound familiar, ladies?). The books were too much for many males to handle, so criticism of Hite’s work skyrocketed. A strong and outspoken woman, Hite was saying and publishing things, true things, that people just didn’t want to hear. It’s human nature, but ignoring them or attempting to discredit them didn’t make them any less true. Eventually, the court of public opinion derailed her popularity and career as an author.
“The Disappearance of Shere Hite” tells the story of an early form of “cancel culture” in a way, as the backlash of the author’s controversial work also led to her downfall. The documentary is interesting, but the material is stretched a little thin for a feature length.
By: Louisa Moore