PICK! ASR FILM ~~ ASR Film: Hite Documentary Details Woman Sexologist’s Rapid Rise and Exile

By Woody Weingarten

Cancel culture wasn’t a concept in the 1980s, but slinky sexologist Shere Hite became victimized by something exactly like it.

The feminist author of a 600-page 1976 blockbuster, The Hite Report on Female Sexuality, was not only lambasted as a man-hater because of her writings but partially because, being broke, she’d posed nude for Playboy and modeled for paperback covers and ads that objectified women. She was slut-shamed even though that phrase hadn’t been coined either.

Hite became so distraught at her treatment, mostly at the hands of male critics who felt threatened, she ultimately fled from the states to Europe, mainly Britain and Germany, and relinquished her American citizenship.

… “The Disappearance of Shere Hite” is fascinating throughout …

Now, The Disappearance of Shere Hite, an R-rated biopic by Nicole Newnham, resurrects the researcher’s life by cobbling together frequent rolling texts of her basic material (and a voice-over by actor Dakota Johnson) with sometimes fuzzy newscasts and archival footage, next to interviews with the Missouri-born writer, her ex-lovers, her detractors, and her friends and supporters, including Kate Millett, author of the groundbreaking Sexual Politics, who bemoans Hite’s public erasure and self-exile and points out that the academic social scientist could no longer earn a living in the United States.

Shere Hite as she appears in new documentary. Courtesy of Mike Wilson. An IFC Films release.

The nearly two-hour documentary strikingly shows Hite being ambushed by tabloid-type television journalist Maury Povich, causing her to leave the interview almost as soon as it started (with the interviewer’s aide forcibly trying to stop her), as well as her haughtily blowing smoke in talk show host Mike Douglas’s face, and trying to cope with a rude, all-male Oprah audience that couldn’t wait to take pot-shots at her research.

It further connects disparate items such as Anita Bryant attacking gay rights, a conference of the National Organization of Women (NOW), Anita Hill testifying at a Supreme Court confirmation hearing that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her, Hite’s neighbor and KISS co-lead singer Gene Simmons reflecting on her New York parties that collected endless celebrities, and a James Bond poster for the movie Diamonds Are Forever with two sexy women flanking Sean Connery (Hite had posed for both, one featuring her signature strawberry blonde hair, the other with tousling pure blonde tresses).

Disappearance, which is being distributed by IFC Films, also builds a sense of a whole woman by stitching scenes of raw but lovely sexuality with staged images of women with tots, women cooking dinner, women strolling.

The film was written by director Nicole Newnham, who’d co-directed the Oscar-nominated Crip Camp, an amazing, feel-good 2020 doc that had a 100% Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating after 99 reviews. That flick managed to link a summer camp for the crippled to both the American disability rights and civil rights movements, making sure to note along the way that the disabled are also sexual beings.

The Hite Report on Female Sexuality — which had started as a post-grad thesis at Columbia University — was based on questionnaires filled out anonymously by 3,000 women. Hite, an admitted bisexual, defended the anonymity of her interviewees by insisting the women wouldn’t have been honest had they been required to list their names because they feared negative reactions from their male mates and other men.

That approach, however, gave major ammunition to vilifiers who claimed her methodology was flawed.

The tome drew as much public attention as those by Kinsey and Masters & Johnson and earned a ranking as the 30th best-selling book of all time. It became a key element of feminist history by stressing that most women felt unsatisfied sexually with their male partners, that women achieved orgasm through clitoral stimulation and masturbated often, that rampant infidelity existed, that 95% of women faked orgasm, that sexual equality was possible, and that few people (men and women) knew much about the female genitalia.

Despite her instant best-seller and subsequent titles (including her first follow-up, The Hite Report on Men and Male Sexuality) that were believed to have advanced the so-called Second Wave of feminism, Hite, because of the extended backlash, never reached her goal of overcoming both gender and class bias — even after having sold 20 million books overall.

Shere Hite. Courtesy of Mike Wilson. An IFC Films release.

The sex educator was criticized heavily for virtually everything she peddled, especially such statistics as 84% of women being unsatisfied emotionally and only 13% of women still loving their husbands after two years of marriage.

Whether you think Hite an innovator or fraud, The Disappearance of Shere Hite is fascinating throughout — and offers viewers an opportunity to see how she flaunted her body and flamboyant costumes at the same time as it provides dramatic insight into her original, creative mind.


ASR Senior Contributor Woody Weingarten has decades of experience writing arts and entertainment reviews and features. A member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, he is the author of three books, The Roving I; Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmates; and Rollercoaster: How a Man Can Survive His Partner’s Breast Cancer. Contact: voodee@sbcglobal.net or https://woodyweingarten.com or http://www.vitalitypress.com/

ProductionThe Disappearance of Shere Hite
Written byNicole Newnham
Directed byNicole Newnham
Production DatesOpens Dec. 1st
Production AddressLandmark Opera Plaza
601 Van Ness Ave.
Telephone(415) 771-0183
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review Pick?YES!