A new documentary will take an in-depth look at the unlikely origins of a gay adult book and porn shop that became a Los Angeles institution.
In “Circus of Books,” due out April 22 on Netflix, filmmaker Rachel Mason profiles her conservative Jewish parents, Barry and Karen. For more than 30 years, the elder Masons owned and operated Circus of Books ― which the film deems the “center of the gay universe” ― in West Hollywood, California.
In addition to literature, Circus of Books specialized in X-rated videos and sex toys. Given the taboo nature of the industry, however, the Masons kept mum about their professional lives among family members and acquaintances for years.
“We were probably the biggest distributor of hardcore gay films in the U.S. It was like a knife over our heads all the time,” Karen Mason recalls in the trailer, unveiled Monday and viewable above.
The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, and the widespread homophobia that swept the nation as a result, helped turn the Masons into unlikely LGBTQ rights activists. Karen Mason even became a leading member of PFLAG, or Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, after her son Josh came out as gay.
Executive produced by Ryan Murphy, “Circus of Books” premiered to glowing reviews at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. IndieWire praised the film as “a rare delight — and a nearly perfect documentary,” while The Hollywood Reporter called it “very funny, very moving.”
Though Circus of Books closed in 2019, the shop’s legacy lives on in the hearts of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” veteran Alaska, a former employee who is featured in the film, and other members of West Hollywood’s queer community.