Earlier this year, Franco Stevens, founder of Curve, the best-selling lesbian magazine, reacquired the publication and donated it to the recently launched Curve Foundation. Stevens' journey to forming the Curve Foundation is captured in the documentary film “Ahead of the Curve,” which debuted on June 1 for general audiences.
Directed and produced by Jen Rainin (Stevens' wife) and Rivkah Beth Medow, “Ahead of the Curve” covers what went into the 1991 launch of Curve magazine (originally called Deneuve) and how Stevens and her colleagues fought for its survival. It also explores how the magazine covered the lesbian community in an all-encompassing way.
“The magazine is an incredible archive of 30 years of queer women's history,” says Rainin. “The story of how it came into being is a wonderful microcosm of that time and of queer culture, what lesbians were grappling with at the time. There's so much history wrapped up around the story.”
In the early years of their marriage, Stevens, who sold the magazine in 2010, shared stories with Rainin, such as how the magazine became Curve after being sued by actress Catherine Deneuve. Also, the first three issues of the magazine came from money Stevens made at the racetrack after cashing out multiple credit cards and betting. Rainin started to write a screenplay about the subject.
“I started researching to write the screenplay, and in talking with women who were on the scene in the 90s with Franco, I realized how poorly documented queer women's culture is,” says Rainin. “I felt a deep responsibility to tell this story as a non-fiction film first.”
After coming out, Stevens wanted a publication that spoke to her; in creating it, she also met the needs of the community. The magazine brought representation, which lesbians around the country were craving.
“The magazine did such an amazing job presenting a nuanced and holistic view of lesbians and our culture, so I'm really hoping that people will come away from the film with a holistic view,” says Rainin. “I am hoping to see it used in high school and college curriculum.”
Higher Education Connection
“Ahead of the Curve” is being distributed by Wolfe Video, but it also has two educational distributors, Ro*Co Films and Film Platform, which will market the film to colleges and universities, particularly addressing media literacy and LGBTQ+ women's history.
“Rivkah, Franco and I are already speaking with graduate classes about topics we cover in the film,” says Rainin. “We're available to speak, join panels and host special screenings.”
“We've written curriculum and discussion guides to go along with the film,” she adds.
It makes Rainin happy to know there are college courses about LGBTQ history and the gay rights movement, but she and her collaborators hope the film and the magazine's archives become a vital part of those courses because much of the current course content centers on men.
“It's so rare that we are learning about queer women when we learn about queer history and culture,” she says. “I would really love to see this film start to shift that and make a more equitable experience about who is represented in those classes.”
The inaugural executive director of the foundation is Jasmine Sudarkasa. The Curve Foundation is also launching The Curve Award for Emerging Journalists, which will focus on journalistic writers interested in telling queer women's and non-binary people's stories. There is a cash award and mentorship. For this, the foundation is partnering with the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association to propel an outreach to journalism students.
“In the spirit of Curve magazine, we want to…build a strong community of journalists going forward,” says Rainin. “We're building a cohort every year…who will all get an opportunity to interact with each other throughout the course of the year. When they become graduates of this cohort, we intend to connect them with upcoming cohorts to build a more robust community of journalists who are focused on telling these stories.”
In its early years, it was considered radical to put the word lesbian on the cover of a magazine because it was dangerous to be out, notes Rainin. The magazines were sent out in brown wrappers to protect the subscribers. Those archives can provide information for individuals interested in researching queer history.
“There were so many times where Curve's reporting was picked up by the mainstream publications,” Rainin says. “It really provided a critical element for queer women to see themselves and for the mainstream to see queer women.”
The film, which premiered at the 2020 Frameline Pride Showcase, includes both vintage and current interviews with Stevens and the people who worked with her on the magazine from its inception. Recent footage was shot as the magazine was at a crossroads with its then-publisher unsure if it had a future. With today's technologically interconnected world, the print magazine will likely no longer exist. Instead, Stevens determined the foundation is the best way to serve the community.
The Curve Foundation will connect people in the way most needed in 2021, through its searchable archive, encouraging active storytelling and supporting the next generation of journalists. The magazine's website, Curvemag.com continues to exist as a project of the Curve Foundation with a focus on the archive, but with updates.
“We're going into the archive and curating a set of stories, and we're going back to the original writers where we can and asking them for new writing around the piece to further contextualize it or talk about how things have changed or haven't changed since it was written,” says Rainin. “Or we're going back to the subject of the article and getting new commentary from them.”
To learn more about the Curve Foundation, please visit https://thecurvefoundation.org/.