If it’s true that sex researcher Shere Hite revolutionized how we view women’s sexuality, then why isn’t she better known? A new documentary by director Nicole Newnham brings writer Shere Hite back into the spotlight where she belongs.
When The Hite Report was published in 1976 it caused a major stir. Hite had canvassed hundreds of women with a series of intimate questions about their sex lives and how they personally achieve orgasm. Women responded back anonymously and Hite collected these quite illuminating responses into a book. The biggest takeaway from the responses: intercourse was not the primary way women reached orgasm. Hite received nothing but vitriol from men and from the press for her research. Pushing back against the patriarchy and revealing the truth about women’s sexuality made her a controversial figure. As her notoriety grew, Hite began to withdraw, eventually to leave the US behind and never look back.
The Disappearance of Shere Hite features extensive interviews with those who knew Shere Hite best as well as archival clips of her many appearances in the media. The film effectively brings Shere Hite back in the limelight and serves double duty as both a biographical documentary and a scathing expose on how women are treated by the media.
The Disappearance of Shere Hitepremiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Sixty something widow Nancy Stokes (Emma Thompson) is looking for a new experience. She hires sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) for an encounter. Nancy’s only ever been with one man, her now deceased husband, who preferred very matter-of-fact sex. Nancy really wants to be adventurous in the sack. And perhaps maybe an orgasm? She’s never had one before. But that might be too much to ask. Leo Grande is more than willing to help Nancy. The problem is that Nancy won’t stop talking, won’t stop worrying and won’t stop asking the fairly secretive Leo questions about his past. As Nancy books several encounters with Leo, she must come to terms with her own views of sexuality before she can find what she’s looking for.
Written by Katy Brand and directed by Sophie Hyde, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a dynamic exploration of age, sexuality and identity. The story plays out in four chapters and we see both growth and decline with Emma Thompson’s character. She’s absolutely terrific in this, which isn’t a surprise by any means. Thompson boldly ventures to demonstrate that, yes, an older woman can not only crave sex but they can be sexy too. Daryl McCormack holds his own opposite his costar. He portrays that natural confidence that makes Leo Grande such an engaging protagonist. While the first chapter can feel like a bit frustrating, viewers will ultimately be rewarded with the reach the film’s satisfying climax.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
Update: Good Luck To You, Leo Grande premieres June 17th on Hulu.
Alice (Natalia Dyer)’s sexual curiosity is getting her unwanted attention at her Catholic high school. After an illicit AOL chat and a rumor about her performing a sexual act on another student, high school is now even more awkward for the already awkward Alice. When an opportunity arises to go to a supposedly life-changing spiritual treat, Alice jumps at the chance. However, at the retreat she quickly learns that the perception of purity is toxic especially when everyone has their own secrets, including her.
Written and directed by Karen Maine, Yes, God, Yes is a gentle coming-of-age story that examines problems with purity culture. Set during the time when AOL chats and Yahoo! searches online were the norm, Alice navigates the online world to discover her own sexuality. The film tackles all sorts of topics, including gossip, misogyny, homosexuality, and shaming, with a light touch. As someone who had a strict religious upbringing and grew up during this technological era, I found Alice’s story very relatable. The film could have delved into some other aspects of purity culture and religion or given us more background on the characters. However, doing so would have made the story more heavy-handed. Instead, Maine gives us a movie that is equal parts enjoyable and revelatory.
It’s never too late to follow your dreams. This message comes across loud and clear in the new documentary Morgana. Directors Isabel Peppard and Josie Hess follow Morgana Muses, an Australian kink performer and free spirit, over five years as she navigates through a new phase in her life. Morgana had always craved intimacy, touch, warmth and connection. She suppressed her sexual desires when it was imposed upon her to play the part of model daughter and wife. Morgana did everything she was supposed to do. She got married, had children and played the part. But then came a mid-life crisis. Morgana broke free from her unhappy marriage and decided it was time to live life on her terms. The 50-something has been on a journey ever since, finding the connection she so desperately craved and using her new found sexual freedom to express her creativity. The film follows Morgana as she poses for styled photoshoots, directs pornographic movies and connects with others in the kink community and beyond.
Morgana is a sex-positive documentary that will inspire viewers to break out of their emotional prisons and explore new possibilities. It also coaxes the viewers to contemplate sexual expression as something not only relegated to the young and thin. Morgana wears her voluptuous frame and her age beautifully, despite her nagging self-loathing, and we would do well to learn to appreciate something outside of societal beauty standards.
Morgana is currently screening as part of the San Francisco Indie Fest 2021 through February 21st.
The idea of making money from pleasure is an intoxicating one. Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel), has traveled from her home in Sweden to Los Angeles, to do just that. She aspires to break into the lucrative porn industry. Newcomers are embraced quickly with their first porn shoot which is packaged and sold as an enticing first experience video. But once that cherry has been popped, it’s more difficult to climb the ranks. Bella has the looks, the body but soon discovers that’s not enough. She’s timid, awkward and reluctant to do more advanced techniques. But she’s also got drive. She wants he top talent agent, the lucrative shoots, the best hair and makeup and the chance to climb to the top. Along the way she discovers how abusive her work really is and in order to make it she needs to not only take that abuse but to give it as well.
Directed by Ninja Thyberg, Pleasure is an expansion of her short film by the same name, Pleasure (2013), which premiered at Cannes and also screened at the Sundance Film Festival. Every industry is toxic in one way or another but the porn industry has a cycle of abuse that can be particularly damaging. Thyberg adeptly explores this in her film and casts a critical eye on how the industry treats young women. Kappel offers the viewer a sense of unease that fits with her character.
Pleasure is rooted in realism. There is plenty of nudity and borderline pornographic scenes. Many of the actors are actually porn stars and real porn genres and brand names are used throughout.
I recommend Rashida Jones’ Hot Girls Wanted, a breakout documentary that premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and is available to watch on Netflix. Pleasure is almost like a fictionalized version of Jones’ film.
Pleasure premiered at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival as part of their World Cinema Dramatic Competition.