An Enlightening Documentary On A Foundational Feminist Figure [Sundance]

Hite was a woman of many identities, and all of them are displayed here in “The Disappearance of Shere Hite.” Her background as a working-class, bisexual, former nude model (something that could be interpreted as sex work, given how some of these photographs appeared in Playboy) is shown to inform all aspects of her research, and these facts are integrated through well-edited archival footage.

Not a single piece of footage is used without meaning, even if they could be interpreted as unfavorable on her part. In fact, these types of instances, such as one from a botched interview with “A Current Affair,” are utilized smartly. Much of the sexist confrontations in the film highlight her vulnerabilities while greatly supporting her thesis on male fragility. This effective editing and splicing are why these ideas are still conveyed despite a recurring miscast voiceover by producer Dakota Johnson, who, in an unrelated incident, recently made a pretty tasteless joke about the sexual assault accusations made against former co-star Armie Hammer.

The coloring of the documentary also is instrumental in telling Hite’s story. Her high femininity is a recurring symbol of her popularity and pushback. Thus, the decision by colorist Ayumi Ashley to tint it in traditionally feminine colors adds an additional sense of reclamation to the film. The centering of fellow feminists, such as Karla Jay, in the talking heads segments also adds much-needed credibility to the call for reintroducing Hite into the feminist canon.

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