Outfest 2020: "Ahead of the Curve" is the fascinating story of the rise of Curve Magazine
As someone who has been involved with lesbian media for nearly a decade, and even written articles and been featured in Curve Magazine, the Ahead of the Curve documentary totally blew my mind. You think you know a lesbian magazine! Directed by Jen Rainin and playing now at Outfest 2020, this doc takes a deep dive into how Curve Magazine was created and more importantly, the sense of community it fostered at a time when it was desperately needed.
Back in 1990, Frances "Franco" Stevens was an out lesbian living in San Francisco and decided that lesbians and queer women needed their own space, both in the glossy pages of a magazine and in the connections that such a project could provide. That magazine would become Deneuve, and for over a decade it dominated lesbian culture. I won't tell you how Franco found the money to publish Deneuve, but believe me, it's only one of many fascinating and outrageous things that Franco did to get and keep the magazine running. For thirty years, Deneuve, now Curve, has been a place to discover new lesbian and queer talent, authors, and more. To the people who worked on the magazine, many of whom are featured in the doc, the magazine was more than publication: it was a family and community unlike any they had even dreamed of.
The documentary follows Franco around as she attends events like ClexaCon, The Dinah, queer poetry classes, and even the NCLR to talk about what the next iteration of Curve could be and how she can get diverse voices to be a part of that. Director Rainin, who is also married to Franco, expertly weaves old footage from Deneuve and Curve's early days with interviews with Franco and supporters like Melissa Etheridge, Jewelle Gomez, and Lea Delaria, just to name a few. The magazine was almost decimated by a lawsuit over its name in 1996, but as Deneuve changed to Curve, they only became a more important lifeline for lesbians and queer women around the world. As the world changed, so did Curve, and when lesbian media became nearly exclusively online, Curve has had to make its own pivots as well.
Rainin makes the interesting choice to start the doc at a pivotal time for both Franco and Curve: Franco has just received a cryptic email from the current Curve owner, Silke Bader saying she didn't know if Curve could last another year. It's a tough pill to swallow for Franco, but she's determined to find a new way for Curve to survive, even if that means without the print version. The future of Curve might still be up in the air, but learning how came to be might just make you want to do something to change that, like going out and buying a copy right now, even if you haven't in years.
Besides some amazing history about Curve, there's a lot to absorb about the lesbian community both back in the 90s and now, and many thoughtful discussions about lesbian identity, fighting exclusion, and how we are far from over our fight for LGBTQ equality. If you love queer media, you won't want to miss Ahead of the Curve. Even if you just love well made, interesting documentaries, put this on your "don't miss" list.