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Director Nicole Newnham on the groundbreaking history in ‘The Disappearance of Shere Hite’

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Feminist activist and researcher Shere Hite wrote one of the bestselling books of all time with The Hite Report in 1976. While her groundbreaking work in studying the intimate lives of women can’t be questioned, few remember her today. Director Nicole Newnham tackles this in her documentary The Disappearance of Shere Hite, in theaters Friday.

Newnham’s relationship to Hite began in her childhood during the ‘70s. She tells ABC Audio she first found The Hite Report hidden away in her mother’s bedside drawer.

“It was like being sucked through some kind of portal into this world of women actually talking about their sexual lives and their experiences, across great diversity of age and race and everything,” Newnham said. “It was not just what they were doing, but how they were feeling about it, and what they wished could be true … that’s just not stuff we talk about even today.”

The film is told through narration of Hite’s personal, archived writings, read by Dakota Johnson. Newnham says she cast Johnson because of her acting talent, and her advocacy of female sexual health and wellness.

“I just thought that that crazy, amazing combination that she has of being able to be so vulnerable and fragile and feminine and also so strong and tough was really something that would be extraordinary for Shere,” Newnham said.

Through researching her archived writings, Newnham was able to piece together a clear picture of who Hite was. She wrote everywhere – scribbled on Post-it notes, on the back of cocktail napkins and opera programs, even.

“It really was kind of like putting a jigsaw puzzle together of someone,” Newnham said. “We did have a sense that we were having this very intimate dialogue with her, even though we’d never met her, about how she saw herself.”

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