Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Misinterpretations?

The Netflix original ‘Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness’ faces backlash

This+Netflix+advertisement+includes+images+of+Doc+Antle%2C+Carole+Baskin+and+intended+hitman+Allen+Glover.+Photo+courtesy+of+Netflix.

This Netflix advertisement includes images of Doc Antle, Carole Baskin and intended hitman Allen Glover. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers of the Netflix original show “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”

The most-watched show Netflix program in March for nearly two weeks, “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” is a shocking docuseries that follows the life of big cat breeder Joe Exotic (born Joseph Allen Schreibvogel) and the life of the others around him who are involved in the big cat industry. 

The ending of the seventh episode focuses on Exotic’s life in jail after being charged for a murder-for-hire as well as several animal abuse chargers, and documents the reactions of Exotic’s friends and enemies. 

With the release of the series, a wave of internet frenzy took over as individuals speculate whether Exotic truly is guilty of the murder-for-hire, why certain involved people in the murder-for-hire plot did not go to jail—including the man Exotic hired for the murder—and whether Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue and mortal enemy of Exotic, actually killed her second husband. 

While Exotic himself is content with his newfound stardom, others are not, including some who are featured in the series.

CAROLE BASKIN

Baskin, who runs Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, establishes herself as an animal rights activist who owns a tiger sanctuary (as opposed to a zoo). Throughout the show, Baskin is portrayed as a villain and, according to TV producer Rick Kirkham, is “just as bad as Joe” for caging the exotic animals and making a profit. The third episode of the show dives into the disappearance of Baskin’s husband, millionaire Don Lewis, and entertains the possibility that Baskin could be responsible for it. 

At bigcatrescue.org, Baskin published an article titled “Refuting Netflix Tiger King,” where she writes that the series “did not care about the truth” and had “the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers.” She also refutes that she killed her husband, calling one claim that she used a meat grinder “the most ludicrous of all the lies.” 

Baskin also said she was led to believe the show was meant to unearth all the animal abuse present in the big cat world, and writes that “the series presents [the accusations about Lewis’s disappearance] without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims.” 

 ANIMAL RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS 

The Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) both claim the show did not dive deep enough into the animal abuse present, 

and should have discussed the several abuse charges that Exotic went to jail for.

In a PETA blog, blogger Katharine Sullivan writes, “‘Tiger King’ certainly alludes to the suffering of big cats used in tourist traps, but the docuseries—ultimately focusing on the rivalry between Baskin and Joe Exotic—glosses over why forcing these animals to participate in public encounters or photo ops is never worth it.”

DOC ANTLE

Mahamayavi Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari and a prominent figure in the big cat industry, was disappointed with the series’ portrayal of him. 

In a WUSA9 video interview, Antle was asked about the accuracy of the show, to which he replied, “It’s, of course, hard to believe because, remember, this is not a documentary. This is a salacious, outrageous ride through a television show produced to create drama and just tie you into some crazy train wreck of a story between the feud of Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic and the meltdown that ensued between two people.”

When asked about how accurately the show portrayed him, Antle replied it was “outrageous,” and that the show portrayed him as an animal abuser. Specifically, Antle has refuted claims about mistreating animal cubs and using them for profit only to later kill them. 

“No [tiger] baby would ever not have it’s very best life,” he said with confidence in the WUSA9 video. 

Antle also disliked the image that was portrayed of him in the show as a polygamous man with several younger girlfriends.

 “This massive judgmentalness that somehow I’m not supposed to have girlfriends or something is off my rocker here,” Antle said.

A MISGENDERED EMPLOYEE

One repeatedly interviewed person on the show is Saff, one of Exotic’s employees who lost his arm after being bitten by a tiger. 

Although Saff is a transgender man, the series portrays him as a lesbian female. Saff is repeatedly referred to as a female by the staff of the show and his coworkers, particularly Exotic. This particular mistake caused public outrage, and individuals demanded the show fix the error. 

Saff himself is relaxed about the misgendering, telling Esquire, “I don’t care if they’re calling me she; I don’t care if they’re calling me he. On a daily basis, I am called 17 different things. I never really took it to heart.” 

Saff also used the interview as an opportunity to bring light to Exotic’s behavior, saying the show could have done a better job of portraying Exotic’s good side. 

He spoke about one event glossed over in the show: Exotic’s Thanksgiving celebrations. 

“Every single year for Thanksgiving, he cooked—he, personally, and his parents—for a Thanksgiving meal and they set it out for free for anyone to come to the park and have a Thanksgiving meal on him,” Saff said. “Every single year. And that was never in the news, but it was real; it happened. It’s stuff that I wish they would have delved into a little more.”