Ryan Murphy is an executive producer of Circus Of Books, a new documentary named after the family-run hub for gay pornography it chronicles. This isn’t merely a celebration of Circus of Books, but rather a deeply personal look into the straight couple, Karen and Barry Mason, that’s been running it for more than 35 years. Because, while the store evolved into an inclusive safe space for Los Angeles’ gay community, the Masons themselves were more conservative in their personal lives, having hid the nature of their work from both their friends and their three children. That’s something of a shock since, as Karen puts it in the below trailer, the store was at one time “the biggest distributor of hardcore gay film in the United States.”
That all makes the fact that Rachel Mason, one of Karen and Barry’s children, helmed the documentary that much more interesting. While her film aims to unpack the AIDS crisis through the lens of the business, it also reckons with how Karen and Barry’s secret rippled throughout the lives of their children, one of whom met resistance from his mother when he came out as gay.
Here’s the synopsis:
For 35-plus years, the gay porn shop Circus of Books gave Los Angeles’ LGBT+ community a space to socialize and celebrate themselves without judgment. Unbeknownst to many customers, the store was cultivated by owners Karen and Barry Mason, a straight, mainstream couple with three children who went to religious school and were unaware of their parents’ business. The Masons long refused to disclose the nature of their business to friends or family. While maintaining the secret, they witnessed the dawn of the HIV/AIDS epidemic firsthand, losing a generation of treasured employees. Still, during that time, they never identified as activists — just everyday entrepreneurs catering to a market, until the Internet destroyed it. Executive produced by Ryan Murphy, CIRCUS OF BOOKS is the debut documentary from artist Rachel Mason, who finally asks the least radical people she knows — her parents — how they became America’s biggest distributors of gay porn, and why Karen reacted so negatively when her own son came out of the closet.
Circus Of Books arrives on Netflix on April 22.