Rachel Mason Interview: ‘Circus of Books’ director
While Rachel Mason did experience quite a bit of pride in herself with her recent Emmy nomination for “Circus of Books,” she also saw her achievement as a triumph over those who doubted the documentary’s potential to appeal to people. “I actually had many people just say to me, ‘Oh, good luck with that.’ It was not easy,” says Mason in our recent webchat (watch the video above). But she also saw it as a bit of validation for the many people who work in the sex industry who face people prejudiced against them. This has even extended to those workers not being allowed to apply for COVID-19 relief funds. “In some ways I feel vindicated on the part of all the people that work in this industry. It’s a really beaten down and relentlessly attacked industry. There’s nobody easier to attack than people who work in porn and sex work.”
Mason scored her Emmy nomination in the Best Nonfiction Writing category for her documentary. “Circus of Books” chronicles Mason’s parents, Karen and Barry, and how they operated a gay bookstore of the same name in West Hollywood. In addition to selling literature, pornography and novelties, the store also served as a place for gay people to meet and connect. In operating the store, Karen and Barry lived a sort of double life in managing the shop but keeping the details secret from their kids, friends and the members of their conservative Jewish congregation.
Mason also discussed how the film isn’t just about the familial role that Karen and Barry played with their biological family but also with the staff who worked at the store. “My parents were basically like parents to the store family, all these employees that they really treated like their own children in many ways.” She continued that this became increasingly clear as the AIDS epidemic claimed so the lives of so many gay men. “They also had relationships that were devastating when their employees were dying and they went to their bedsides. They were there at the very end when these people’s families were not there.”
She also talked about her first memories of being inside Circus of Books when she was a little girl. “I was probably three or four when I first stepped foot in there, but I didn’t realize what I was in and my entire focus when I was actually a child was the candy.” It wasn’t until she was in high school that one of her close friends said to her, “Rachel, your parents run a porn store!” She elaborates, “Fernando literally said those words to me when I was 15 and it didn’t equate because my parents were boring and not cool.”