Review: 'Ahead of the Curve' Is An Absorbing Look at the Groundbreaking Lesbian Magazine and Its Founder

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday June 1, 2021

'Ahead of the Curve'
'Ahead of the Curve'  (Source:Courtesy Frameline)

The story of the world's oldest magazine directed at lesbians — as well as the world's first glossy periodical with that intended audience — is detailed in Jen Rainin's new documentary "Ahead of the Curve," a title that plays on the magazine's own name, "Curve."

But "Curve" wasn't always called that. Initially, founder Frances "Franco" Stevens called her publication "Deneuve." From its very first issue, in 1991, the magazine's covers included something else: The motto "The Lesbian Magazine" (at first "A Lesbian Magazine," and sometimes simply "Lesbian Magazine").

The addition of that one word was important, because it was Stevens' way of stating out loud for whom the magazine was being produced. This was intended, Stevens tells us, as "a way for lesbians to disperse information to other lesbians." It was also a bold choice, made at a time when open lesbians could have their children taken away from them for no reason other than the fact that they were lesbians. Reading the magazine, we're told, was, in a way, like coming out all over again every time a woman opened its cover.

Jump forward three decades, and Stevens — no longer the owner or publisher of the magazine is on her way to ClexaCor LGBTQ Women's Media Conference, where she's scheduled to speak on a panel. She's en route when she receives a troubling email from the magazine's current operator indicating that the publication is in difficulties and might have to shutter.

This news provokes a passionate existential conversation about the magazine's reason for being. Is a publication directed at lesbians needed any longer? Is a magazine for lesbians even wanted, the word "lesbian" itself now being regarded with some degree of suspicion by younger people who prefer the word "queer?"

Stevens refrains from knee-jerk reaction or defensiveness. She's pen, curious, and sincere about wanting to know how, and whether, "Curve" can still serve its audience — and, indeed, just who that audience might be. She discusses these issues with Rainin (who is her wife), and with people she meets at the conference, and then with others. Rainin's camera is there to soak in the discussion, but also to look back at the magazine's origins, Stevens' early life (including a traumatic coming out), and the ways in which the passage of time has made the world, the magazine, and Stevens herself different from how they once were.

Not everything has changed, of course, and not everything that has had changed is trending in a better direction. The more we hear from this film and understand the historical contexts of the magazine, the community it serves, and the symbiotic relationship between the two, the clearer it becomes that women who love women — cis and trans alike — still need a space to call their own, especially in a world that's getting darker and more dangerous for non-heterosexual and non-cisgender people by the day. (The doc was, of course, produced before the Supreme Court's recent ruling that LGBTQ workers are indeed covered by existing anti-discrimination protections at the workplace, but other problems identified by the film's participants remain clear and present dangers — including the GOP's adoption of a political platform that calls for an end to marriage equality.)

Three decades of struggle, glamour, celebrities, and everyday women of all ages, sizes, shapes and colors (not to mention a lawsuit that forced a name change) have earned "Curve" magazine and its founder a place in LGBTQ history. By the time this film is done, it's plain to see that Stevens, and "Curve," aren't finished making history yet.

Available today on most major digital platforms

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.