By Brad Windhauser.

My producing partner, Rivkah Beth Medow, and I kept talking about how frustrated we were with the lack of nuanced, well-told stories that represented strong queer women. We just weren’t seeing very many of them….”

Jen Rainin’s excellent documentary Ahead of the Curve (2023), which debuted on Netflix this week, chronicles a key part of the professional the life of Franco Stevens, who, in her early 20s, created the very influential Lesbian magazine Deneuve (later changed to Curve after an unfortunate lawsuit), a labor of love that stayed in print for several decades before migrating to an online-only format. This landmark publication, though not the first Lesbian one (that remains The Ladder), gave the world an important, diverse look into lesbians and lesbian culture at a time when queer visibility was just courting the mainstream.

During my in-depth conversation with Rainin, we discussed many issues related to creating the film, as well as the need for queer representation, and who gets to tell our stories, from several different angles. Included below are highlights of our conversation.

While watching your engaging documentary, I did wonder what gets lost, if anything, when a publication migrates from physical copies to online only.

JR: The physical, the tangible; it’s a totally different quality of experience when you’re holding the physical magazine in your hands. One of the most delightful things about making the film was that there was one point my living room was entirely coated on the floor with every single issue of 30 years of Curve magazine. Just being able to kind of have your mind drawn to something physical. I think it activates a different part of the brain. Online, you call up that one article that you want to see. But if you’ve got the physical magazine, you have to scroll through several pages to get at the thing that you originally went there for. And you end up with so many more riches because you find this other article or this other image that sparks something in you.

Your film discusses the importance of visibility, particularly with regard to lesbians during the era in which Deneuve (Curve) debuted. So with the publishing world shrinking for print magazines like the new curve, I do agree that visibility is changing. But I also don’t hear mentioned enough about another casualty: We lose an editorial guide, a voice to help kind of shape and encourage ideas. Can you speak more about that?

JR: That was a big conversation for us as we made the film and Franco was wondering about keeping the magazine going: What’s the mission? What’s that secret sauce that we want to make sure continues with the next iteration, and for us that is The Curve Foundation, which is the only national nonprofit that champions LGBTQ+ women and non-binary people, stories and culture. We talked about that a lot in terms of what this foundation is championing, but it’s also curating in a way. It’s thinking through what are those key things that we want to make sure are highlighted, what is lifted up for folks to see that visibility. This is such an interesting, nuanced conversation to have. First of all, visibility. Sounds like yes, that’s the thing we want, but it doesn’t necessarily equal safety. In fact, sometimes visibility makes you less safe because now people who are fearful and hateful; they can see you and find you. So with visibility, there’s a responsibility, about how we’re making ourselves visible and about the kinds of stories that we’re telling.

So, perhaps considering shrinking visibility in terms of queer guided or focus voices in the magazine world, do you think documentaries are also an ideal format to fill that void. What are they able to kind of do differently?

JR: So the answer is yes. The film really became a documentary by accident. When I decided I needed to tell this woman’s story [Franco Stevens is Jen Rainin’s wife], because, when I learned about Deneuve being sued by Catherine Deneuve, I thought, are you kidding? This is a great story. This would make a great movie. So I started writing a screenplay. And in researching for that film I was having a really hard time finding source material, nonfiction, films and books and, you know, documentation that captured that era in lesbian culture. So I realized that oh, you know what, I actually have a responsibility to tell this story as a nonfiction film, as a documentary film. And that’s how that got started. My producing partner, Rivkah Beth Medow, and I, as we’re making Ahead of the Curve, we kept talking about how frustrated we were with the lack of nuanced, well-told stories that represented strong queer women. We just weren’t seeing very many of them; maybe every now and again, and it’s getting a little better.

To a young queer filmmaker [I mentored recently, I said] don’t do it unless you have to. It is so hard. It just is. So find a story that you feel so compelled to tell you have to do it. And, and then just do it.”

So perhaps along the same lines, how important is it for platforms such as Netflix, where your documentary premiered this week, which kicks off Lesbian Visibility Week, for this exposure?

JR: It’s a huge deal. We started our little independent film with a very low budget and we have been hustling, hustling, hustling to try to get this film out in the world. We did a huge festival run, but not a lot of people go to festivals, so there’s a very limited audience there. We were fortunate enough to sign with a distributor, Wolfe Video, a premiere LGBTQ film distributor, and they got us a deal on Stars [the cable channel], which was terrific. So that was another milestone. That’s where the kind of power comes from, the opportunity to get in front of folks who might not otherwise see it. And then we got a deal with Netflix, which is so valuable. I mean, among other things, so many more people will have the opportunity to see the story and be exposed to this piece of our history that, you know, otherwise would just disappear. Netflix does get demonized a lot. They’re the 100 pound gorilla, right? But they’re making a pretty strong statement about their own values by programming a lesbian film at the start of lesbian visibility week starts. That feels like they’re giving us a nice attention there.

Of the things I also appreciate in the film is that it touches on how advertising can be a very potent influence. It dictates what can get published, basically, but it also can shape perceptions, as ads like Subaru changed their image to appear in Curve.

I like that too. I was thinking the other day about Bud Light and that was the first big campaign in the magazine. They took a chance and advertised in a lesbian magazine. The risk to them was real, you know, that their base could say, Oh, heck, no, we’re not going to be supporting you anymore. For somebody in the mainstream to see that ad, there was less of a risk, but this is a company, Budweiser, who is on the outs right now. They did something that upset the world [by having Dylan Mulvaney, a trans woman, as a spokesperson] and they got kind of slammed. It’s helpful to remember and to see that actually, they stepped up for queer women at a time when nobody else was.

What was it like making a project in which you have a personal stake?

JR: Scary. It was scary to make a project about my wife. I sleep next to her every night. It would have been easy to make a very superficial: she’s on a pedestal and a goddess like she is. She’s a also very complicated person who is deeply flawed in all kinds of ways, just like every person, and it was really important to me to make sure that we told a whole story, a really honest story about her. We would interview her friends and old girlfriends and colleagues, and she said to them, ‘Look, you can tell the truth, tell the whole story; don’t just make me look good.’ So it was challenging to try to get folks to really tell the whole story, but I feel like we did get under the hood with that. There were times where I had to ask her hard questions on camera, that I knew we’re gonna bring up painful memories. So causing her pain was awful. We had to keep the ultimate purpose in mind the whole time. It was never about just about telling her story, it was all these women who helped her over the years to get that magazine out, people who she never felt like she could adequately thank or compensate. Another important part was that we started out making to a very time bound story. She said you can talk about anything from when she was outed to when the name change of the magazine happened. But that’s it. Don’t show me in a wheelchair. Don’t talk about the accident. So we started down that path. And it was only when I filmed her [in a scene that didn’t make the final cut] her doing a an interview and her crutches were behind her. She looked up at me and she got teary, and she said ‘God, it is so hard for me to think about how I had to give up running this magazine because of the disability, because the pain,’ and I said, ‘you know that the camera is still running.’ She said, ‘Fine, whatever.’ From that point forward, she became comfortable talking about her disability and owning that piece of it. It was a profound shift for her. It added a lot to the film as well.

The care with which you handled the personal dimensions comes through well. For the last question, What advice would you give a budding documentarian about starting their first project?

JR: I was mentoring a young queer filmmaker yesterday who asked me the same exact question. And what I said was: don’t do it unless you have to. It is so hard. It just is. So find a story that you feel so compelled to tell you have to do it. And, and then just do it. Don’t think about the whole project as much as possible. Think about the piece that’s right in front of you. Do that piece and then do the next piece. It’s a huge undertaking, even a short documentary. It’s overwhelming if you think about the whole thing. So get the vision in your head for what you want it to look like at the end. Go find your people, find your friends, find your crew that see the vision with you and can help you realize it and take one little bite at a time.

Ahead of the Curve premiered on Netflix on Tuesday, April 22, which also marked the beginning of Lesbian Visibility Week across the country. Find out more about the Curve Foundation at

Brad Windhauser is a Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in both the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program and the English Department at Temple University. His academic work in film and literature explores how the lives of queer individuals are impacted by their queer identities. His book The Queer Coming of Age Genre is forthcoming from Lexington Books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *