This documentary made me want to purchase back issue of Curve.
This documentary made me want to purchase back issue of Curve. Courtesy of SQFF

I have to admit, I gasped when I found out how Frances "Franco" Stevens got the money to start lesbian magazine Curve in 1990. Banks wouldn't give her a loan because of homophobia, and it was long before the era of GoFundme. Instead, Franco maxed out several credit cards, took the money to the race track, and bet on horses. The money she won was enough to start the best-selling lesbian magazine and kick off a decades-long endeavor that united gay women across the country. How daring! How enterprising! How very queer!

Franco's charm and chutzpah fuels Ahead of the Curve, a documentary that serves as a portrait of Curve's publisher as well as lesbian culture from the '90s to now. Directed by Jen Rainin (Franco's wife), the film weaves together archival footage, interviews with prominent lesbians, and a modern-day Franco pondering the glossy magazine's future in a time when many queer women shirk the "lesbian" label.

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Ahead of the Curve works best when focused on the magazine's beginnings, initially known as Deneuve, before Catherine Deneuve sued them into changing their name. Hearing all the talking heads explain their itch to get a celebrity on the cover—they eventually got a freshly out Melissa Etheridge to be the first—seems mindboggling now but underscores the need for positive lesbian representation. Although Franco seems wary of being spotlighted, her drive and passion for celebrating gay women is the doc's most compelling bit.

The "modern day" portions, which wrestle with the place of lesbian media in the queer community today, feel a bit tepid, though needed. Facebook, Instagram, and, erm, TikTok are now the places where the community and representation that Deneuve/Curve fostered—for (mostly white) lesbians—can be found. These platforms are often more intersectional, too, a "blindspot" that the documentary acknowledges by including more BIPOC and trans voices. But Ahead of the Curve still serves as an exciting glimpse into the representational politics of old and makes me want to buy Deneuve's back issues on eBay.

The suggested viewing time for Ahead of the Curve is Sunday, October 25 at 6 PM. That said, all of the films this year are available to watch from October 15-25, 2020, once you click on the link you have 72 hours to watch the film.

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