Over the last week, as everyone is sheltered in place and seeking an escape through streaming, all I have been seeing on social media is “Have you seen Tiger King?! Stop everything and watch Tiger King!” I had not heard anything about it prior to its release (giggity), and I went right into it right after watching the trailer. “Tiger King” on Netflix includes multiple true-crime stories including arson, a disappearance and an alleged murder plot in a 7-episode documentary series that puts a spotlight on the questionable business of exotic animal zoos. In the introduction, one of the subjects being interviewed plainly says “Big cat people are back-stabbing pieces of shit.” Based on this documentary, the back-stabbing is undeniable. And at what cost? Unforunately, the big cats lose in the end. This is the binge-worthy stuff that we NEED right now. A perfect escape during these times of uncertainty. One thing that is certain, as one of my friends said online, “this is a train wreck in slow motion, and I can’t look away!”
There is a lot to unpack in this review, as this series centers around three prolific big cat collectors and zoo-owners in America. The most prolific being Joe Exotic. You may remember him from his outlandish YouTube channel and his short run to become governor of Oklahoma. Joe Exotic is, in his own words, “A gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet” and is also the owner of the G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma where he breeds tigers for his zoos or for other owners, to the horror of animal rights activists. Joe is larger than life and fixated on fame, so much that he creates his own reality show about running the zoo. (The show’s producer, Rick Kirkham, who encapsulates Joe as “a mythical character living out in the middle of bumfuck, Oklahoma, who owned 1,200 tigers and lions and bears and monkeys and shit.”) A lot of the footage gives “Tiger King” its big laughs and scope comes from Exotic’s consistent documentation. A lot of these videos have been on YouTube for years.
“Tiger King” only starts with Joe Exotic. It branches out to his workers, his two husbands, also zoo-owning peer Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who exercises his own god complex at his South Carolina Zoo, and believes there’s nothing sexier to people than a tiger. Then there is Carole Baskins who is in a constant feud with Joe Exotic over his handling and breeding of his Tigers as she runs Big Cat Sanctuary, claiming that she is a true big cat rescue. Carole has her own dark secrets centered around her late millionaire husband who went “missing” years ago. But all of her peers strongly believe that Carole Baskins murdered her husband, put him through a meat grinder and fed him to her tigers in order to inherit his estate. Are you not entertained?!
All of this is great entertainment, but the unfortunate part of this whole series is the display of human greed and the exploitation of innocent animals that are bred and kept in captivity for monetary gain, in the name of conservation. This is an entertaining yet eye-opening documentary that reveals the darker side of the big game zoos in America, while displaying the whack-jobs behind them. This is a truly entertaining escape during these stressful days. A huge thumbs up for Tiger King.