Film Tells the Story of Curve, a Groundbreaking Lesbian Magazine

The documentary drops today on Netflix

Over 30 years ago—before Melissa Etheridge and k.d. lang came out, lesbian chic became all the rage and mainstream brands started celebrating/co-opting Pride—Franco Stevens had a grand plan to launch the first glossy lifestyle magazine for lesbians.

But neither the banks nor the wealthy lesbians that Franco approached were interested in backing such a publication.

So, the determined entrepreneur, 23 at the time, took a big gamble. She took cash advances on a dozen credit cards and headed to the racetrack. Some well-placed bets yielded the cash to launch Curve. (At its founding in 1990, the magazine was dubbed Deneuve, but a lawsuit filed by French actress Catherine Deneuve necessitated a name change.)

Ahead of the Curve, an eye-opening documentary, tells the full story behind the birth of the groundbreaking magazine. The film features interviews with Stevens as well as Etheridge (the first major celebrity to appear on Curve's cover), poet Jewelle Gomez and actress/singer/comedian Lea DeLaria.

While Stevens reflects on the past, she also explores whether there is a need for a print publication like Curve to exist today and how the current generation of queer women feel about the word "lesbian."

Co-directed by Jen Rainin (who is married to Stevens and also appears in the film) and Rivkah Beth Medow, Ahead of the Curve, first released in 2020, will make its Netflix debut on April 22, kicking off Lesbian Visibility Week.

Here, Rainin and Medow discuss the importance of visibility, the brands that supported Curve in the early days and how they landed their independent film on the world's largest streaming service.

MUSE: Before we get into Ahead of the Curve, tell me about Frankly Speaking Films, the Oakland, Calif.-based production company you two run.

Jen Rainin: We're totally mission-driven. What we do is very specific. We are genre agnostic, but we make films that tell mesmerizing stories about strong queer women. That's our frame.

Why was it important to make Ahead of the Curve and get Franco's story out there?

Rivkah Beth Medow: I saw this film as an enormous blessing and opportunity to help tell a phenomenal story that would build the lineage for LGBTQ+ women and help fit a huge piece of our history back into the frame. Deneuve and Curve played a huge role in building the culture that we have now.

Rainin: I'm in love with her, she drives me bananas, and she inspires me every single day—Every. Single. Day. I feel like at this moment, we all need someone to inspire us. We need those stories of people who have persevered, who met their own needs, and in doing so, met the needs of their community. Visibility continues to be a North Star, and it's something that was a big driver for Franco in creating Curve and continues to be a driver through what Curve has evolved into, which is The Curve Foundation, the only national non-profit that's dedicated to championing queer women's stories and culture.

Bud Light was Curve's first national advertiser. Were you surprised that the brand, which famously turned its back on trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney after backlash from transphobes, dared to support the lesbian community at the time?

Medow: I don't think we were surprised at all, because they were expanding their brand into a market, and it was a pretty low risk. Not everything was connected. Not that many mainstream people were aware that Bud Light was advertising to lesbians because things were more siloed. There were a handful of advertisers back in the late '80s/early '90s who started to think, oh, maybe there is a market here. You had Subaru, you had Skyy Vodka, and you had Bud Light. It was a business decision to expand into a market that they thought they could capture.

In the film, Stuart Elliott, a gay man who, for years, was the ad columnist for The New York Times, is seen in archival footage talking about how the right used gays and lesbians as demon figures. It's disheartening to see this still happening today and how some brands are giving in to these smear campaigns.

Medow: I think it points to why historical perspective is important to include in a film like this. Brands have journeys as well, and they're based on the decisions of the people who are sitting behind those brands, and who sometimes make very bold moves—and sometimes make moves in response to the fear of losing a segment of their purchasing population.

Franco also questions whether a print magazine is needed in the digital era, which sparks a larger discussion about how print in general is collapsing.

Rainin: Print media has always been challenging, and it feels like it's at an inflection point right now. I know how journalists are struggling. If there's a lesson to take away from this film, it's the impact of journalism on so many people's lives—the power of reflecting a marginalized group back to themselves and the wider community. I feel like journalists already know that. So, if anything, the message for the rest of us is: we need to be supporting our journalists. We need to be subscribing to newspapers and magazines.

Getting an indie film on Netflix is a huge accomplishment. How did you make it happen?

Rainin: We have the extraordinary privilege of working with a wonderful distributor, Wolfe Video, and [CEO and founder] Kathy Wolfe and [EVP of distribution] Evan Schwartz. They are fantastic. This is actually a rare, really positive, feel-good lesbian story, and we pushed them pretty hard to go pitch it at a high-end streamer because we thought, especially for Lesbian Visibility Week, it would be a perfect fit. Things just came together. So, they were able to make the deal.

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