Tiger King

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (titled onscreen as simply Tiger King) is a 2020 American true crime documentary streaming television miniseries about the life of zookeeper and convicted felon Joe Exotic.[1] It was released on Netflix on March 20, 2020.[2] The series focuses on the small but deeply interconnected society of big cat conservationists such as Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue, and collectors such as Exotic, whom Baskin accuses of abusing and exploiting wild animals.

Tiger King
Tiger King, Murder, Mayhem and Madness publicity image.jpg
Promotional poster
GenreTrue crime
Documentary
Directed by
StarringJoe Exotic
Carole Baskin
Bhagavan Antle
John Finlay
Rick Kirkham
John Reinke
Kelci "Saff" Saffery
Jeff Lowe
Erik Cowie
Howard Baskin
Travis Maldonado
Dillon Passage
Tim Stark
Composers
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes7 (+1 special)
Production
Executive producers
CinematographyDamien Drake
Editors
  • Doug Abel
  • Nicholas Biagetti
  • Dylan Hansen-Fliedner
  • Daniel Koehler
  • Geoffrey Richman
Running time41–48 minutes
DistributorNetflix
Release
Picture format4K (Ultra HD)
Audio formatStereo
Original releaseMarch 20 (2020-03-20) –
April 12, 2020 (2020-04-12)
External links
Netflix

The series received positive reviews from critics, and according to Nielsen ratings, was watched by 34.3 million people over its first ten days of release, ranking as one of Netflix's most successful releases to date, partly due to its release amid the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and also inspired several memes online.[3] Despite its success and popularity, the series and its filmmakers have received criticism from conservation and animal rights groups for its framing and inaccuracies related to private breeding and wildlife conservation issues.[4][5][6]

A special aftershow hosted by Joel McHale was released on April 12, 2020, with McHale interviewing several of the stars about Exotic and the series itself.

SummaryEdit

 
Big cats, like this tiger seen at Florida's Big Cat Rescue in 2012 run by activist and conservationist Carole Baskin, cannot be ethically released to the wild and instead spend the rest of their lives in captivity.

The series explores the deeply interconnected community of big cat conservationists and collectors in America, and the private zoos and animal sanctuaries they have set up for the care and public display of these animals. The series' primary subject is "Tiger King" Joe Exotic, the eccentric owner of the G.W. Zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and follows his bitter years-long feud with Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida.[7]

Baskin presents herself as an animal rights activist ,whose mission is to provide a sanctuary for big cats raised in captivity and combat the exploitative trade of big cats. However, Exotic maintains that she is simply a rival zookeeper, whose aim is to eliminate fellow big cat enthusiasts, characterised by Exotic as her "competition". The two exchange threatening videos, legal allegations, protests, and targeted harassment campaigns, in which PETA and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service become involved. Exotic alleges that Baskin murdered her second husband Don Lewis, who has been missing since August 18 1997, and makes public death threats towards Baskin.

Exotic's personal life is featured as a subject of interest throughout the documentary, particularly his unofficial three-way same-sex marriage to Travis Maldonado and John Finlay, and his subsequent relationship with future husband Dillon Passage. His 2016 run for President of the United States and 2018 run for Governor of Oklahoma are documented with the assistance of his campaign manager, Joshua Dial. Producer Rick Kirkham recounts the rise and fall of "Joe Exotic TV", a podcast-like production that Kirkham hoped to develop into a TV series, before his footage was mysteriously destroyed.

The series later records the events leading up to Exotic's conviction under federal murder-for-hire statutes, when it comes to light that he paid a hitman to murder Baskin; his convictions also included violations of the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act, and resulted in a 22-year federal prison sentence.

Other characters from the exotic animal community are introduced, including Bhagavan Antle, an animal breeder accused of leading a personality cult; Mario Tabraue, a former drug lord who became a federal informant and is now involved in animal trafficking; Jeff Lowe, a Las Vegas playboy to whom Exotic turns over his zoo for legal reasons; and James Garretson, who became a confidential informant for the federal government and a key figure in making the case against Exotic. Former G.W. Zoo employees such as manager John Reinke and animal wrangler Kelci "Saff" Saffery conclude the series by commenting that the animals themselves were forgotten amongst all the interpersonal fighting, and that no party has truly come out victorious.[8]

EpisodesEdit

No.TitleDirected byOriginal release date
1"Not Your Average Joe"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
Meet Joe Exotic the gun-toting operator of an Oklahoma big cat park. He’s been accused of hiring someone to murder his chief rival Carole Baskin.
2"Cult of Personality"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
Subjected to long hours little (or no) pay and the whims of eccentric bosses: are big cat park employees just cogs in a web of personality cults?
3"The Secret"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
An incident in Carole’s past casts her in a suspicious light; while she maintains her innocence, Joe is too happy to point the finger at her.
4"Playing with Fire"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
Joe ramps up his efforts to become an internet and TV star but a mysterious fire and lawsuit threaten his plan until an angel investor appears.
5"Make America Exotic Again"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
As Joe dives into politics he deals with turmoil and tragedy in his personal life. Meanwhile, the dynamics at the park change with the new owners.
6"The Noble Thing to Do"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
James Garretson makes a shocking claim about Joe leading to FBI involvement; desperation sets in for Joe, who thinks Jeff and James have set him up.
7"Dethroned"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
Joe faces the music in the courtroom but insists the story is far from over. Jeff’s business prospects crumble. Former G.W. Zoo workers try to move on.
8"The Tiger King and I"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinApril 12, 2020 (2020-04-12)
Special after-show hosted by Joel McHale.

SubjectsEdit

ReceptionEdit

Critical responseEdit

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 89% based on 75 reviews, with an average rating of 7.88/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "A bizarre true crime story you have to see to believe, Tiger King is a messy and captivating portrait of obsession gone terribly wrong."[9] On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score to reviews from mainstream publications, the series has an average score of 75 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[10]

Variety magazine's Caroline Framke called the series "messy yet compelling" and that for "those who love Netflix's particular flavor of true crime and docuseries, [...] Tiger King will undoubtedly scratch a particular itch."[11] Joshua Rivera at The Verge said that "[e]very minute of Tiger King yields some new surprise, an unbelievable turn or charismatic stranger with incredible stories to tell."[12][13]

Although the series has a positive reception overall, the special aftershow hosted by McHale has received criticism.[14][15][16][17][18]

Audience viewershipEdit

According to Nielsen, the series was watched by 34.3 million people over its first 10 days of release, ranking as one of Netflix's most successful releases to date.[19] It has been suggested that its viewership success was aided by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused many global viewers to be restricted to their homes around the time of its release.[20] At their Q2 report meeting in July 2020, Netflix reported the series had been viewed by 64 million households over its first month of release.[21]

At an April press conference regarding COVID-19, then-U.S. President Donald Trump was questioned about the possibility of pardoning the series' key subject, Joe Exotic. In January 2021, prior to the Inauguration of Joe Biden, Trump pardoned several different people, but Exotic wasn't one of them. Exotic tweeted that he was "too innocent and too gay" to receive a pardon from Trump.[22][23][24]

Criticism for depiction of conservation issuesEdit

Animal welfare groups, conservation organizations and wildlife biologists have criticized the series and its filmmakers.[25][26][4][5][27][6]

Several conservation and animal rights groups criticized the filmmakers for framing private big cat breeding as a legitimate form of conservation. Representatives from Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wide Fund for Nature, Panthera Corporation and National Geographic criticized the show for its equivocation of the unregulated private breeding with captive breeding for species reintroduction, highlighting that the latter is strictly controlled by the Species Survival Plan and only takes place in zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.[6][5] Privately bred cats cannot be reintroduced to the wild as several of the private breeders interviewed suggested, as they would be unlikely to survive in the wild, and are likely hybrids which could cause genetic pollution.[5][25][6]

The filmmakers were also criticized for implying that roadside zoo operations are as legitimate as accredited zoos, and Big Cat Rescue specifically. The series and director have suggested Big Cat Rescue's enclosures are small or do not meet ethical standards,[28] but their facilities meet humane standards set out by Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.[4][dubious ] Elle noted that Baskin was portrayed as hypocritical for keeping the tigers in captivity instead of releasing them, without explaining that doing so was not an option—being captive-bred from mixed stock, as well as in-effect domesticated, meant they were unsuited to either survive in the wild or rebuild regional populations. Michael Webber, director of The Elephant in the Living Room, also criticized the parallels drawn between the private zoos and Big Cat Rescue.[4] The series was also accused of minimizing Baskin's efforts to lobby Congress for stricter legislation on animal trafficking.[29]

"Goode brings to Tiger King the intellectual rigor and social responsibility of ... a nightclub and hotel developer", Peter Frick-Wright, who had produced Cat People, a podcast series covering the American big-cat industry, wrote in Outside. He found the series particularly unfair to Baskin, pointing out that in focusing on her husband's disappearance so much it failed to distinguish her from Exotic and Antle, barely mentioning that Big Cat Rescue only accepts tigers confiscated by law enforcement or from owners who could no longer handle them—owners who had to sign a contract with heavy financial penalties if they owned another big cat or were even photographed with one, a proviso not mentioned in the series. Baskin also forbids volunteers or staff from touching the animals; they are fired for doing so, Frick-Wright wrote.[29]

Others criticized the sympathetic portrayal of Joe Exotic. The director of Animals Asia Foundation expressed disappointment that the Netflix series "does not fully condemn many of the activities that [Exotic] was involved with" and criticized the filmmakers for downplaying the animal cruelty and commercial purposes of Exotic's zoo.[27] Conversely, Baskin is the only source in the series from the conservation sector, and the only source explaining why keeping the wild animals was abusive, but is depicted in an unsympathetic light.[30][25][29]

Some criticism noted the lack of clear environmental or conservation message. An article in The New York Times drew parallels with other recent wildlife films like Blackfish, which had a major impact on their subject matter. Blackfish led to a severe drop in ticket sales at SeaWorld and reduced support for cetaceans in captivity, eventually leading to changes in legislation and practices. The producer of Blackfish criticized Tiger King, saying that issues surrounding big cats were "lost in the show’s 'soap opera-esque drama'". Karl Ammann, a photographer and documentarian specializing in the illegal wildlife trade who was approached to be interviewed by the filmmakers of Tiger King, similarly expressed disappointment at the lack of conservation message in the series, saying "to totally ignore such key aspects was a real missed opportunity".[4]

PETA and the Humane Society of the United States, both of which had previously investigated and campaigned against the animal abuse of Exotic and other private breeders featured in the show, responded more positively to Tiger King for raising the profile of the issue of big cats in captivity.[31][32] However, PETA noted the series "largely skips over serious issues of animal welfare, including the horrors of cub trafficking and the problems with commercial cub-petting attractions".[32]

Accusations of misogynyEdit

The Independent's Kathleen Walsh posited that the show's treatment of, and the public reaction to, Baskin has been misogynistic: "The series provides example after example of Exotic's violence, cruelty, and narcissism, while the evidence against Baskin (compelling enough as it is framed in the series) is circumstantial. Maybe Baskin did kill her husband—and the third episode of the series is devoted to the evidence pointing to this conclusion—but so far there is little more than speculation to say that she did. Meanwhile, the series shows clips from Exotic's erstwhile YouTube series in which he poses alongside a blow-up doll, Baskin in effigy, shoving a dildo into its mouth and shooting it in the head."[33]

Awards and nominationsEdit

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
2020
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series Chris Smith, Fisher Stevens, Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin Nominated [34]
Outstanding Directing for a Documentary/Nonfiction Program Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin (for "Cult of Personality") Nominated
Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (Original Dramatic Score) Mark Mothersbaugh, John Enroth and Albert Fox (for "Not Your Average Joe") Nominated
Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming Doug Abel, Nicholas Biagetti, Dylan Hansen-Fliedner, Geoffrey Richman and Daniel Kohler (for "Cult of Personality") Nominated
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Nonfiction or Reality Program (Single or Multi-Camera) Ian Cymore, Rachel Wardell and Steve Griffen (for "Cult of Personality") Nominated
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Nonfiction or Reality Program (Single or Multi-Camera) Jose Araujo, Royce Sharp, Jack Neu and Ian Cymore (for "The Noble Thing to Do") Nominated
2021
Hollywood Music in Media Awards Best Original Score in a Documentary TV Series Mark Mothersbaugh, John Enroth, Albert Fox and Robert Mothersbaugh Nominated [35]
MTV Movie & TV Awards Best Real-Life Mystery or Crime Series Tiger King Pending [36]
Producers Guild of America Awards Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television Chris Smith, Fisher Stevens, Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin Nominated [37]

Response from those depictedEdit

 
Joe Exotic, the main subject depicted in Tiger King, achieved a large following online and inspired several Internet memes.[38] He has expressed regret for his past actions.

Joe ExoticEdit

Joe Exotic is the main focus of the series, with the documentary causing him to receive significant amounts of attention on social media. Ironically, despite the series being responsible for his worldwide fame and fanbase, he has not watched the series himself, due to being arrested prior to its release. Nevertheless, Netflix interviewed Exotic in jail, asking what he thinks of both the series and his newfound fame. Exotic stated that he loved the fame, but wished he could experience it firsthand. He also expressed remorse for his actions after being in jail, stating to his fans;

Go sit in a cage with your animals for a week. I mean, when I left the zoo and I sent my chimpanzees to the sanctuary in Florida and imagined what my chimpanzees went through for 18 years, I'm ashamed of myself.

Exotic added that he's "done with the Carole Baskin saga."[39] In 2021, he began criticising some of the other people featured in the documentary, stating that "not one person came forward until the Netflix series came out and they could profit from it."

Carole BaskinEdit

 
As a result of Tiger King, several Internet memes targeted Carole Baskin for her speculated involvement in the disappearance of Don Lewis, her second husband.[40]

Carole Baskin and her husband Howard felt betrayed by filmmakers, stating she was told the discussion of Joe Exotic and Baskin's missing husband were just for context.[41] In a post on the Big Cat Rescue website, Baskin said that the show "has a segment [in the third episode] devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don 21 years ago" and that the series "presents this without any regard for the truth".[42] Baskin has never been charged with anything related to Don's disappearance and has always denied having anything to do with it.[43] In partial response to Baskin, director Goode stated while he felt Baskin had the right intention, he questioned if "it was fair to keep these tigers in cages", adding that the tigers "pace neurotically" and that "Sometimes you wonder whether or not one should humanely euthanize these cats instead of [letting them] suffer in cages".[28] Baskin preemptively answered that "... our goal is to end having them in cages and have no need for a sanctuary like ours. Our federal bill, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, would stop the cub petting that drives the breeding and end ownership as pets in back yards."[28] In addition, Goode and Chaiklin insisted that Baskin "wasn't coerced" into answering questions about her former husband.[44] In February 2021, Baskin revealed that she had been asked to feature in a planned second season of the show, but she refused and told the producers to "lose her number".[45][46]

Doc AntleEdit

Doc Antle was disappointed with his portrayal in the series, calling it a 'train wreck of entertainment' and "salacious."[47] Antle said in an interview that he was not told that the series would be about the bitter feud between Baskin and Exotic, and said that he would've preferred to be "left out of it";

This is not a documentary. This is a salacious, outrageous ride through a television show produced to create drama, to just tie you in to some crazy train wreck of a story between the feud of Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic. Questions about Carole and Joe were a dozen or so thrown into hundreds of others. And I repeatedly told them, I have no desire to be involved in some show where you got the feud of Carole and Joe going on. It's not my thing. Leave me out of it.

Kelci "Saff" SafferyEdit

Hawaii-born Saffery, a veteran who served in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, worked as a manager for Joe Exotic's Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park for almost ten years. In 2013, the then-27 year old was bitten by one of the tigers as he mistakenly put her arm into its cage, and opted to have an amputation of his left forearm and return to work within a week, instead of undergoing a two-year series of surgeries. He is hoping to get a prosthetic, as of March 2020.[48] In 2018, Saffery disconnected from the zoo and everyone involved.[49]

Following the release of the Netflix series, Robert Moor, the creator of an earlier podcast about Joe Exotic, posted a tweet stating "Saff, the person who got mauled by the tiger, told me repeatedly that he is trans, prefers to be called Saff, and uses he/him pronouns. So please do likewise."[50] Media outlets criticized the series for misgendering and deadnaming Saffery.[51][30][52] LGBTQ Nation contrasted Netflix's treatment of Saffery with their recent collaboration with GLAAD, an LGBTQ media watchdog group, on a campaign raising "transgender visibility in the entertainment industry".[53] Saffery clarified to Esquire,

On a daily basis, I am called 17 different things. I never really took it to heart. [...] [F]or context, my conversation with Rob was that he asked me, 'What do you prefer? Saff or Kelci?' And of course, I said Saff because that’s what I've been called for the past 20 years. I was in the Army prior to the park and they always use last names. So, Saff was my preferred name. And I've always gone by him since I could say that out loud. My family was always very supportive—it was never an issue.[50]

Regarding whether he identified as a trans man, Saffery stated to Out magazine, "I don't know that that describes me. You know, nothing was done. I really just have lived this lifestyle. And, you know, my family knows this. And obviously, people closest to me know. This is how I've lived my entire life. I don't know anything else."[51]

CelebritiesEdit

As a result of the show, multiple sportspeople who had previously owned exotic pets were questioned about their actions.[54] Retired boxer Mike Tyson said that he was "foolish" and "wrong" to have kept two tigers in his home in the 1990s.[55] Retired professional basketball player Shaquille O'Neal, who appears in the show saying he bought two tigers from Joe Exotic, said in an interview after the show's release that he had "never had any business dealings with him".[56]

Subsequent mediaEdit

A limited series adaptation is in development, headed by Universal Content Productions. It will be based on a podcast[57] Joe Exotic: Tiger King[58] by the writer Robert Moor, [59] with Kate McKinnon set to executive-produce and portray Carole Baskin. The series is expected to air on NBC, Peacock, and USA Network.[60][61]

A limited series titled Joe Exotic: Tigers, Lies and Cover-Up premiered on September 27, 2020 on Investigation Discovery. A TV special titled Joe Exotic: Before He Was King premiered on September 28, 2020.[62][63]

On April 8, 2020, Deadline Hollywood reported that Ryan Murphy is in talks to produce a film or limited series for Netflix with Rob Lowe starring as Joe Exotic.[64]

On May 4, 2020, Variety reported that Nicolas Cage had been cast to portray Exotic in an eight-episode television series based on a Texas Monthly article about Exotic.[65][66] The series is produced by Imagine Entertainment and CBS Television Studios, and Dan Lagana will serve as writer, showrunner, and executive producer.[67] In September 2020, it was announced that the series had officially been picked up for development at Amazon Prime Video.[68]

On April 5, 2021, British documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux released a new documentary on Exotic, titled Shooting Joe Exotic, on BBC Two in the United Kingdom. The documentary contained unseen footage of Exotic from a previous documentary by Theroux, America's Most Dangerous Pets (2011), as well as new interviews of other people associated with Exotic, including Exotic's legal team and Howard and Carol Baskin.[69]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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  16. ^ Harrison, Ellie (May 1, 2020). "Joel McHale responds to 'weird' backlash over his Tiger King special question". The Independent. Archived from the original on November 29, 2020. Retrieved March 22, 2021. “People gave me such s*** for asking if Joe Exotic should be in jail, and I was like, that doesn’t seem like a hard-hitting geyser question,” McHale told Conan O’Brien. “They were like, ‘How dare you.’ and I was like, ‘19 felonies? Animal abuses?’” He added: “It was a weird thing because I think people see [Tiger King subjects] as characters and not necessarily human beings.”
  17. ^ Vineyard, Jennifer (April 12, 2020). "'Tiger King' Revisited: 5 Things We Learned in the New Episode". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 24, 2020. Retrieved March 22, 2021. Anyone in search of a serious critical evaluation of the criminal case against the flamboyant Joe Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic — including his part in the attempted murder-for-hire of Carole Baskin — might want to look elsewhere. However, if all you want is a brief reunion with some of the zookeeper’s colorful colleagues, pull up a chair.
  18. ^ Adams, Sam (April 13, 2020). "The Tiger King and I Almost Offers a Corrective to the Hit Series". Slate Magazine. Archived from the original on October 23, 2020. Retrieved March 22, 2021. Although it’s listed as a new episode of the seven-part Tiger King, … and I is just a barely glorified postgame roundup, checking in with the series’s minor players while offering little in the way of fresh insights, to say nothing of the WTF moments that the series delivers on a regular basis. These omissions are bizarre considering how much juicy material the show left on the table, but even when McHale does touch on a subject the show omits, like the fact that Joe Exotic didn’t even sing the country songs that are presented as his, he glosses over it or uses it as fodder for a weak one-liner. The series leaves so many questions unanswered, but McHale seemingly didn’t bother to pursue any of them, or if he did, those parts got cut out in favor of repetitive icebreakers like “Who would you want to play you in the movie?”
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