'Ahead of the Curve' - inspiring tribute to Franco Stevens and Curve Magazine

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Saturday April 13, 2024
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Curve magazine covers (photo: Frankly Speaking Films/Together Films)
Curve magazine covers (photo: Frankly Speaking Films/Together Films)

The documentary film "Ahead of the Curve," directed by Jen Rainin and Rivkah Beth Medow, tells the long-awaited real-life story of Franco Stevens and her groundbreaking career as founding publisher of Curve Magazine. The film tells the story of one of the most influential women in lesbian history you've possibly never heard of.

Curve is the best-selling and most influential lesbian magazine ever published. The film documents the pioneering magazine's unlikely start in 1990 by a very young Gen X woman who had herself just recently come out.

Curve publisher Franco Stevens and her partner, co-director Jen Rainin, in 2021 (photo: Frankly Speaking Films/Together Films)  

What's more, the story involves a husband and finding herself briefly homeless in San Francisco. Unable to get a business loan to start the magazine, Franco pushed ahead with her idea after a lucky streak at the horse track. At first, she financed the endeavor solo with her credit cards.

The magazine has thus far featured such stars as Martina Navratilova, Melissa Etheridge, Lily Tomlin, Ellen DeGeneres, Lea DeLaria, Tig Notaro, and the cast of "The L Word."

The Netflix film is a boon to anyone who ever wished she could get into a time machine and see what it was like to be part of the lesbian movement in the 1990s, at the celebratory turn of the century, and through the present time.

The amazing footage exists only thanks to Franco fearlessly taking her staff on cross-country road trips to promote the magazine at large lesbian and LGBT events. The strategy was outrageously successful. The footage documenting the progression of lesbian visibility is perhaps the most noteworthy thing about this unique film.

Producer/director Jen Rainin said she feels "a responsibility to tell the story. We just don't know where we came from, where our legacy is, what our lineage is."

The documentary also includes clips of Franco's nationwide appearance on the Geraldo Rivera Show in the early '90s. Notably, "Ahead of the Curve" takes us behind the scenes with Franco's home movies of her first Thanksgiving with her partner at her parents' house, letting the audience in on her complicated relationship with her mother. Franco and Rainin live in the East Bay with their two sons.

Franco Stevens (center) at a Dyke March (photo: Frankly Speaking Films/Together Films)  

Name Change
When the magazine started, it was originally called Deneuve. By all accounts, the name had nothing to do with iconic French actress Catherine Deneuve, whose steamy lesbian scenes are featured in the film "The Hunger." But, like most of us, Catherine Deneuve and her legal team didn't buy it. What else could Deneuve possibly refer to?

As someone points out in the film, it would have been better to ask the beautiful actress for her permission to use her name from the start. They possibly could have gotten her on board with the ground-breaking endeavor, raising its bold profile even more. Catherine Deneuve sued in 1995 and settled in 1996 on the condition that the magazine change its name. That's when Franco re-named it Curve.

A Path Forward
Despite Franco suffering a debilitating injury, as well as competition from the internet that created doubts about the future of the publication, Franco brainstormed with LGBT leaders to find a path forward for Curve so that it could continue to be a guiding resource for its readership.

Curve publisher Franco Stevens with writer Rachel Pepper in San Francisco in the 1990s (photo: Frankly Speaking Films/Together Films)  

Curve was acquired by Avalon Media in 2010, but when it was faced with the prospect that it might have to fold, Franco re-acquired the magazine in 2021 and helped launch The Curve Foundation.

Curve Magazine is now a non-profit endeavor under the aegis of The Curve Foundation, which champions lesbian, queer women, transgender and nonbinary people's stories and culture through intergenerational and community building. The Curve Foundation looks forward to investing in the next generation of leaders.

"Ahead of the Curve" is a fitting tribute to the determination and enterprising leadership of Franco Stevens. She is living proof that a single person with an inspired vision and a crew of dedicated souls can make a huge difference in the world.


Producer and co-director Jen Rainin will be inducted into SF Film's Essential SF on April 16, 6pm at SF Film House, 455 9th St. The public is invited. www.sffilm.org

Curve is championing Lesbian Visibility Week April 22-28. www.lesbianvisibilityweek.com

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