Oscar-nominated “Crip Camp” director Nicole Newnham had lined up her next project. She is set to helm a feature documentary about groundbreaking sex researcher Shere Hite for NBC News Studios. Deadline broke the news.
Hite made a splash with her first book, “The Hite Report on Female Sexuality,” published in 1976. Among other revelations, the feminist sexologist concluded that 70 percent of the women surveyed for the bestseller didn’t orgasm from sex, and most women were able to come easily by themselves. This might seem like common — or at least, unsurprising — knowledge today but at the time, it was quite the bomb to drop on a culture that was still pretty clueless on the topic of women’s sexuality, despite its recent “sexual revolution.” The landmark “Hite Report” sold 50 million of copies.
But, as with any feminist accomplishment, Hite’s pioneering research had its fair share of detractors, too. Playboy dubbed her book “The Hate Report” and the religious right was pissed off, as per usual.
“[Hite] really became a target, because what she was saying frankly wasn’t very welcomed to a male audience. There was a lot of what she was talking about that indicated that women maybe didn’t need men as much as men thought they needed them in the sexual arena, and so that was a bit threatening I think for men,” explained Elizabeth Fischer, head of production for NBC News Studios. “[The scientific establishment] spoke pretty candidly about them thinking her methods were questionable, and yet she had thousands of respondents to her questionnaires.”
Hite relocated to Europe in the ’90s and gave up her American passport. “After a decade of sustained attacks on myself and my work, particularly my ‘reports’ into female sexuality, I no longer felt free to carry out my research to the best of my ability in the country of my birth,” she wrote. Hite died in London last September.
“I was just floored, to think of this life that had been so meaningful to so many women, and that not only the story of her, but the public conversation around that information had sort of disappeared,” Newnham told Deadline. “And the obituary had some information about how that happened, which was just really, really riveting to me.”
Newnham’s doc will draw from hours of mostly-unaired Hite interview footage from NBC News’ archives. Newnham, Fischer, and NBC News Studios head of documentary Molly O’Brien are also hoping to use some of Hite’s original research materials, such as the audio recordings of the women who anonymously responded to her questionnaires. “Those audio responses will be just amazing windows on what culturally was going on with women during those time periods,” Fischer said.
Newnham aims to make a film that “not only brought [Hite] back to life and brought that really relevant information back into public discourse, but also kind of gives you the opportunity to see, how does a woman get silenced? How does that happen?” She continued, “People attacking her for her scientific method. People casting aspersions on her character. It is a story as women we see play out over and over again now, but to see it play out around something so just plain true, as was what she was talking about, I think could be stunning.”
“Crip Camp,” a doc about a summer camp for teenagers with disabilities and the social movement it inspired, was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Oscars. Newnham helmed the film with James Lebrecht. “Crip Camp” has picked up prizes at the Indie Spirit Awards and the IDA Documentary Awards, and was one of our favorite docs of 2020.
Newnham’s other credits include “The Revolutionary Optimists,” “The Rape of Europa,” and “Sentenced Home.”