Arts·Queeries

Curve Magazine defined lesbian culture for decades — and this film pays loving tribute to its legacy

The best-selling lesbian magazine ever is getting the spotlight it deserves in this new documentary.

The best-selling lesbian magazine ever is getting the spotlight it deserves in this new documentary

Franco Stevens (centre) in Ahead of the Curve. (VQFF)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. 

In 1990, thanks in large part to a fistful of credit cards and some luck at the horse track, Franco Stevens launched what would go on to become the best-selling lesbian lifestyle magazine ever published. Initially called Deneuve, it was renamed Curve six years later thanks to — I kid you not — a trademark despite with French actress Catherine Deneuve. And no matter its name, the magazine's legacy is pretty unparalleled in terms of publications for lesbians and queer women — a truth cemented in the fantastic new documentary, Ahead of the Curve.

Ahead of the Curve — which is screening at the virtual edition of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival this Thursday, August 20th — traces the history of the magazine and the lesbian visibility and community it represents. It also pays tribute to the pioneering woman at its core with particular intimacy, which is surely aided in part by the fact that Franco Stevens is married to the film's director, Jen Rainin.  

"When I married Franco," Rainin tells CBC Arts, "I knew she had started Curve but I didn't know the whole history. In the first years of our marriage, she would drop little nuggets in my lap about cashing out 12 credit cards in one day and betting everything at the racetrack to fund the magazine, or going to loan sharks to make payroll, or being sued by Catherine Deneuve. I realized this was a fantastic story that would make a terrific narrative film, so I set about writing a screenplay. But as I researched, I quickly realized how little of queer women's history has been well-documented and saw the importance of documenting this piece of lesbian history accurately. So I began filming the historical story." 

When Rainin first began working on the project, Trump had just been elected.

"[He'd already] begun dismantling the progress made over the past 30 years, which got us thinking about broadening the story to include more historical context and lit a fire around why this story needed to be told now," Rainin says. "When Franco got the call from the current publisher about the magazine's imminent demise, it was a complicated gift which turned out to be the key to unlock the film. It gave us a path to connect Franco's journey with the phenomenal intersectional work that queer women like Amber Hikes, Kim Katrin, Denice Frohman and Andrea Pino-Silva are doing today and to tell that story alongside the historical story."

Rainin considers herself a late bloomer, and didn't come across an issue of Curve until her late 30s. 

Making this film deepened my belief that visibility in media is the most powerful tool to create a world where all queer women are valued.- Jen Rainin

"I was finally starting to come out and I wanted to see people like me, so I steeled myself and showed up at the San Francisco Dyke March," Rainin says of that time in her life. "I was too shy to join the party at Dolores Park, so I sipped chardonnay in a café on the march path and waited. When I looked up and saw the march had started, I was drawn to the sidewalk with tears streaming down my face. The power of seeing thousands of queer women — women just like me — was breathtaking."

Rainin says that experience is exactly what she heard over and over in making Ahead of the Curve when women would describe what the magazine meant to them.

"If I had found Curve and connected to community earlier, my life would have been very different," she says. "I could have started living more authentically so much sooner. But I might not have found my way to marry Franco, which has become the foundational relationship of my life."

That is certainly clear in the film, and Rainin says she felt a deep responsibility to tell Franco's story "as completely and honestly as possible," as well as to honour the lesbian community and its rich history.

Franco Stevens on Geraldo in the 1990s. (VQFF)

"[I wanted] to tell the story of a strong female role model who, in manifesting her own dream, made space for hundreds of thousands of others to have a chance at theirs, and perhaps most importantly to contribute to an understanding of how positive change must be fought for on multiple fronts and in deeply creative ways," she says. "We assembled an all-female-identified crew to create Ahead of the Curve to engage a community that remains hungry to learn more of its own history and celebrate the heroes who made us more visible and on whose shoulders we stand today."

As audiences find their way to Ahead of the Curve, Rainin has a few big hopes for what audiences take from it. 

"If every lesbian and queer-identified woman walks away from this film knowing this story and better understands their history and lineage, thinking about what's at stake in the upcoming election, and feeling excited about connecting with The Curve Foundation to empower queer women to connect with each other, share our stories, and raise visibility, we will have done our jobs," she says.

"Making this film deepened my belief that visibility in media is the most powerful tool to create a world where all queer women are valued."

Ahead of the Curve screens at the virtual Vancouver Queer Film Festival on August 20th at 7pm PST. Buy tickets here.

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won him 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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