Life reflections: The feminist game-changer is profiled in ‘The Disappearance of Shere Hite’.
The Disappearance of Shere Hite ***1/2 (118 minutes)
Here’s an excellent, compelling, chronological cross-section of the extraordinary life and influence of pioneering feminist and researcher Shere Hite, whose 1976 book The Hite Report on Female Sexuality shook the long-standing foundations of sexual politics by revealing hidden truths about how women feel about sex.
Composed chiefly of some remarkable archival footage peppered with contemporary interviews and narration by Hite (read by producer Dakota Johnson), the film offers a detailed and absorbing account of Hite’s career, from her pre-fame life as a struggling New York academic and model to the seismic impact her work had on ill-founded pre-conceived notions about what women want and need.
Director Nicole Newnham delves deeply into Hite’s personal life, how her Pre-Raphaelite beauty proved both an asset and a liability and, most telling, the steadfast resistance to her work, even from her publishers.
With the publication of The Hite Report on Men and Male Sexuality in 1981 came more concerted challenges to her methodology and findings, both from serious newsroom surveys and on fiery talk show appearances.
Though she presented herself as a level-headed, data-driven academic early on as her fame and influence swelled, the film unflinchingly tracks Hite’s growing petulance when being interviewed on camera. This, of course, includes the infamous 60 Minutes interview with Ian Leslie where she stormed out.
As deeply embedded in the 1970s feminist movement as Hite was, it’s perhaps regrettable that the film doesn’t include more responses and reflections from contemporaries such as Camille Paglia and Germaine Greer.
It also doesn’t bring Hite’s story into the frame of feminism today, with its many factions, conflicts and competing “waves” (first, second, third, fourth, etc).
What the film does superbly is serve as a timely reminder of Hite’s impact and how the circumstances that forced her to go into self-imposed exile signal how strongly ideas that question orthodoxy are met with denial and resentment.
If anything, The Disappearance of Shere Hite seeks to redress the standing and reputation of an important feminist figure who fell victim to the mechanisms of what we now call cancel culture, long before the term was coined.