It’s a sad realisation of how segregated the LGBTQ community is when as a gay male you discover that you never heard of Frances “Franco” Stevens the powerhouse publisher/activist who founded Curve Magazine, the best selling lesbian magazine.of all time.
This new movie corrects that somewhat as it shows how ground-breaking the magazine was and what an iconic figure Stevens is However as it is helmed by first time director Jan Renin, who is also Stevens wife, it is somewhat circumspect over some of her personal past.
It is easy to see from the very first scenes that Stevens, even though restricted to a wheelchair after a workplace accident, is a charismatic mover and shaker who possesses such an unshakeable determination to succeed.
Born into a wealthy Jewish family who gave 18 years old Stevens an elaborate wedding before she and her husband moved to San Francisco. The marriage lasted 3 years before she came out as gay, and as result was shunned by her family and ended up living homeless in her car.
Mecca to young newly single Stevens was The Different Light Bookstore on Castro where she became only their second female employee. Mixing with all the writers and artists that came into the store kick-started her ambition to start a Lesbian magazine.
She was just 23 years old, and no-one would provide any funding, as it was considered a high risk venture . Undeterred she applied for as many credit cards as possible, maxed them all out, and successfully gambled the monies at the Racetrack. She won enough to fund the first three issues of Deneuve.
In response to a small ad pasted in the window elicited an enormous response from would-be writer, photographers and artists etc eager to be involved. The full-color, glossy mainstream lifestyle magazine covered national and international news stories, politics, celebrity interviews, style, travel, and trends oriented around the lesbian experience.
From the very start Deneuve was remarkable for three different elements. It was both complete inclusive and diverse, its production standards were well above most other indie magazines, but most importantly it was the first one to have the word lesbian on the front cover.
Renin covers those heady early days when Stevens would motor around the US attending every Women’s Events to drum up subscriptions . There was the lucky break when the biggest publisher of women’s romance novels sent out a mailer about Deneuve and they received sackfuls of post. Meanwhile Steven’s own celebrity started to rise as she came to be the TV spokesman to go to whenever the subject of lesbianism was covered..
When Deneuve reached the giddy heights of being the biggest selling magazine of its kind, the bombshell hit. It came in the form of two Cease and Desists Lawsuits filed on behalf of the French Actress Catherine Deneuve. Miss Deneuve who was happy enough playing a lesbian on screen (Belle De Jour) was most unhappy at the idea of being mistaken as one in real life.
The magazine could have won the battle but having to fight two cases in different countries completely drained their financial resources. As they were just on the edge of having to close the magazine, Stevens turned up with a wad of cash that could pay for the next issue. This time she hadn’t turned to the horses, but to the equally risky loan-sharks.
The film starts at the current day , after 30 years at the helm, Stevens had sold the magazine now known as Curve. She had received numerous offers over the years, but felt now with her physical disability, it was time to step aside. However the first thing we see is an email followed by a phone call from the current owner expressing her concern that Curve may have to close for good.
This becomes the main focus of the film as besides from learning all about Steven’s journey to date, we suddenly get to share her concern if there is indeed a future for Curve. It is not just about the wholesale demise of printed media, but more about how the current generation views the LGBTQ (or just the lesbian) community and how their needs should be met.
The consensus of opinion that Steven elicits from her panel talks with decidedly young audiences, and with her conversations with her peers, is that the struggle for our rights is by no means over. However we need to address how we should all move forward together.
Stevens, although very passionate about the future of a movement she has played a major part in, is also at the same time rational and calm with her own input on the possibilities of the future. This charismatic driving force may be ‘retired’ but you know now that she will always be inspiring others to put our humanity front and center.
This compelling documentary is another crucial part of the story of our community’s history and one of its most important players