IFC Films, Sapan Studios Acquire ‘The Disappearance Of Shere Hite,’ Doc On Celebrated Sex Researcher Who Was Attacked By Conservative Critics

EXCLUSIVE: IFC Films and Sapan Studios today announced they have acquired North American rights to The Disappearance of Shere Hite, a feature documentary on the famed sex researcher whose pioneering study of women’s sexuality sold millions but triggered a ferocious backlash.

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Oscar-nominated filmmaker Nicole Newnham (Crip Camp) directed the documentary, which premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival. Actress Dakota Johnson, who serves an executive producer, voices Hite’s writings in the film. The Disappearance of Shere Hite is produced by Sony Pictures Television – Nonfiction, NBC News Studios, This Machine (a part of Sony Pictures Television), and TeaTime Pictures.

The Hite Report, a groundbreaking study of the intimate experiences of women, remains one of the bestselling books of all time since its publication in 1976,” notes a release about the documentary. “Drawn from anonymous survey responses, the book challenged restrictive conceptions of sex and opened a dialogue in popular culture around women’s pleasure. Its charismatic author, Shere Hite, a feminist sex researcher and former model, became the public messenger of women’s secret confessions. With each subsequent bestseller, she engaged television titans in unforgettably explicit debates about sexuality while suffering the backlash her controversial findings provoked. But few remember Shere Hite today. What led to her erasure?”

For her film, Newnham gained access to “exclusive archives, as well as Hite’s personal journals and the original survey responses… Her revelatory portrait is a rediscovery of a pioneer who has had an unmistakable influence on current conversations about gender, sexuality, and bodily autonomy, as well as a timely, cautionary tale of what too often happens to women who dare speak out.”

Producers of the film are Molly O’Brien, R.J. Cutler, Elise Pearlstein, Kimberley Ferdinando and Trevor Smith. The Disappearance of Shere Hite is executive produced by Eli Holzman, Aaron Saidman, Elizabeth Fischer, Liz Cole, Noah Oppenheim, Andy Berg, Dakota Johnson and Ro Donnelly.

“IFC Films has long been home to some of independent film’s most visionary storytellers and thought-provoking docs, and we’re proud to bring Nicole Newnham’s remarkable film, spotlighting the pioneering and culture-defining work of Shere Hite, to a broad audience,” commented Scott Shooman, interim president of IFC Films. “This important doc is not to be missed and has already garnered widespread critical acclaim at a number of Festivals this year. We look forward to working alongside Josh [Sapan], Nicole and our partners at This Machine, NBC News, TeaTime Pictures and Sony Pictures Television – Nonfiction to give it the theatrical debut and attention it deserves.”

Natalie Difford, head of film for Sapan Studios, said, “It’s a thrill for me and Sapan Studios to be in the company of IFC, R.J. Cutler’s This Machine, NBC News Studios and the incomparable Nicole Newnham. Her deft eye tracks the work of a second wave feminist whose contributions will not disappear, as the film she has made is absolutely magnetic.”

At Sundance, Newnham told Deadline she first became aware of The Hite Report at a young age. 

“I found it in my mom’s bedside chest where she would stick the books she didn’t necessarily want me to see when I was 12 or 13,” Newnham recalled. “The Hite Report was like a portal into another world, this world of women’s real experiences across a huge spectrum of diversity.”

In a statement today, Newnham observed, “Shere Hite created her own cinematic, iconoclastic persona, and lived a larger-than life-story that was meant for the big screen. I am thrilled that, with the wonderful and passionate team at IFC on board, her forgotten legacy will be brought into theaters and shared with a wide audience. Shere’s uncompromising passion and visionary research on sexuality, lifting up the intimate experiences of thousands of American women, was intended to free us from patriarchal oppression in our private lives. This was something she saw as completely critical to a functioning democracy, and her work has never been more relevant or urgent than right now.”

In addition to Sundance, The Disappearance of Shere Hite has screened at Hot Docs in Toronto, DocAviv in Tel Aviv, Israel, the Miami Film Festival, Cleveland International Film Festival, and Doc10 festival in Chicago. It enjoys a 100 percent critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

“It’s been a thrill to see The Disappearance of Shere Hite so enthusiastically celebrated on the film festival circuit and we couldn’t be more excited to be partnering with the first class team at IFC, who truly possess the expertise, passion and savvy to bring this amazing film to a wider audience,” said producer R.J. Cutler. “We are incredibly proud of this special film, and Nicole’s vision aligns perfectly with This Machine’s mission to explore the times in which we live through non-fiction storytelling. Producing this film along with our awesome partners at Sony Pictures Television – Nonfiction, NBC Studios, and TeaTime has been a true honor.”

“We’re excited to bring The Disappearance of Shere Hite to the world with the theatrical release this beautiful film deserves, thanks to IFC, who are among the very best in the business,” noted producer Molly O’Brien. “When we first discovered the many hours of NBC News archive featuring Shere, our collective jaw hit the floor. We knew we had to tell her story and were thrilled to produce with the brilliant Nicole Newnham, the archive-wizard editor Eileen Meyer, and our amazing creative partners at This Machine and TeaTime Pictures.”

Hite died in London in 2020 at the age of 77. She had lived abroad for decades, preferring life in Europe where she found people more open-minded than in America. 

“It was a true no brainer to come on board as producers of this important project,” Dakota Johnson and Ro Donnelly said in a statement. Johnson added, “Shere is a giant in the sexual wellness and female empowerment space. Her story must be told loudly and clearly. To be the voice of Shere’s writings was a deep honor. This woman was spectacular and I’m eager for the current world to learn more about her.”

The acquisition deal was negotiated by Submarine, WME and Josh Sapan, who runs Sapan Studios, a boutique TV and film production company.

Nicole Newnham is represented by Entertainment 360 and Gang Tyre Ramer Brown & Passman. This Machine is represented by WME, Jeanne Newman at HJTH, and 42West. TeaTime Pictures is represented by WME, Untitled, JSSK, and Slate PR.

No target release date for the film has been announced. 

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