This documentary pays homage to the trailblazers who founded and produced the influential lesbian magazine Curve, formerly Deneuve, starting in the early 1990s. The archival footage — big hair, Melissa Etheridge, joyous dyke marches, the media fixation on “lesbian chic” — is certainly entertaining. But any nostalgia is tempered by reminders that the ‘90s was also the era of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; the so-called Defense of Marriage Act; and several high profile anti-lesbian hate crimes.
That context makes Frances “Franco” Stevens’ launch in 1991 of a glossy magazine by and for lesbians — with the word printed right on the cover, despite those who cautioned Stevens against it – something to celebrate.
That’s just what Ahead of the Curve does. It’s directed by Jen Rainin who is Stevens’ spouse so no surprise that the film focuses on Stevens’ achievements and legacy. It’s also a story about the pre-internet era when an enterprising 23 year-old from San Francisco with a stack of credit cards and, hilariously, some racetrack winnings could and did start her own magazine.
Accompanying the archival footage are interviews with Franco’s family and friends; entertainers such as Lea DeLaria that were featured on Curve’s cover; and Curve staffers who share war stories of putting out, distributing and publicizing issues. One of the magazine’s most acclaimed and prolific reporters, Victoria Brownworth, oddly is not featured which seems a glaring omission in a film that’s championing Curve’s triumphs.
But the focus is firmly on Franco herself who struggles not only with the debilitating effects from a freak accident in 1997 but who also wrestles with how and whether to keep Curve going in the modern era when most independent magazines have folded. The film follows Stevens on a tour to hear from a new generation of LGBTQ activists and to share with them the heady experiences and hard won victories of recent history.