Sundance 2023: ‘The Disappearance of Shere Hite’ is a Revelation
by Alex Billington
January 28, 2023
I am always up for a good documentary that re-establishes the legacy of an important person who has been forgotten in time. This film is one of those extraordinarily vital documentaries that will, when given a proper release sometime in the near future, reset the legacy and re-establish Shere Hite as the feminist hero that she really, truly was. If you’re like me, born in the 1980s (or anytime after), you’ve probably never heard of Shere Hite. She hasn’t so much as “disappeared” as been forgotten, buried by criticism and fanaticism and unjust hate. I’m lucky I could watch this documentary film at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and learn all about her, I’m so glad someone decided to tell her story accurately. The Disappearance of Shere Hite is a film about Shere – who she was, what she did, her books, what happened to her after he books achieved an immense amount of fame and popularity. It’s a biopic but also much more – a film about progressive ideas, sexuality, society’s resistance to sexuality, and how good people can be crushed by a puritanical population.
The Disappearance of Shere Hite is directed by doc producer / filmmaker Nicole Newnham, who also co-directed the Sundance hit Crip Camp a few years ago. She once again heads back back into the past to tell a different story of liberation. Shere Hite’s bestselling book The Hite Report liberated female orgasm by revealing most private experiences of thousands of anonymous surveys. Her findings rocked American establishment and current conversations about gender, sexuality. “Rocked” is a good word to describe what happened. At first, her book became a bestseller, but then the backlash began to grow… reaching its peak after she published her second book – created from honest responses from men. This fascinating, carefully researched, meticulously constructed doc tells Hite’s story with nuance and genuine respect. They had to figure out who she was and put together her story using only old footage, because Hite passed away in 2020. The result is an empowering tale of a woman being courageously honest with sexuality, hoping to change the world with her openness and desire to emancipate. But the world wasn’t ready. Is it ready now? Maybe not?
As an experiment after watching this doc, I asked my parents if they knew who Shere Hite was, if they could remember her. They said no, until I asked them about her book – The Hite Report, since it was so popular at the time. My mom then said yes, she remembers that book – but hasn’t thought about it in nearly 40 years. Which pretty much lines up with what this film shows, and proves that yes it had an impact though she has been entirely forgotten. Then they said, “wasn’t she the one who was anti-man?” That is, as the documentary shows, one of the viscous spins that media tried to pin on her. There’s literally a clip of her in an interview, at the time, where she is asked point blank, by a man, isn’t this book anti-man? She replies that no, she has nothing against men, she’s just publishing the thoughts of women and men in her books. I admire how this film doesn’t say it outright, but it’s obvious most folks couldn’t appreciate the progressive conversation the books were creating, and ultimately rejected her and her research as vehemently as possible. That’s all clear.
This superb documentary is as good as it is thanks to the editing, by Eileen Meyer and Lauren Schwartzman, both of whom worked on the Sundance favorite Crip Camp from a few years ago. There’s so much material to pull from, so many different sources and conflicting opinions, and it seems like such daunting task to make sense of all of it and, most importantly, put it together in a way where there is an engaging story being told. Not just one story, but many stories. It’s not just Shere’s story they’re telling, it’s the story of America, of the women’s lib moment, of the backlash to the women’s movement, of sexuality, of society’s refusal to evolve, and so much more. They’ve crafted a wonderful film that is as inspiring as it is damning, making us reflect on how someone who wanted to make a better world could be so disgustingly attacked and silenced. The filmmakers said they were most intrigued by meeting all the lovely men in her life, and wanted to make sure the film reflects both male and female perspectives on Shere. They’ve created an exceptional tribute to Shere, and I believe she would be proud of the work they’re doing bringing her ideas into the 21st century.
Alex’s Sundance 2023 Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd – @firstshowing
Leave a Reply