Review: The many issues with the Netflix docu-series ‘Tiger King’

By Brooklyn Kiosow, Copy Editor

After not being able to understand any of the Twitter posts of a blonde-mulleted man named Joe Exotic, I turned on Netflix and sat down to watch the series he was a part of: “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.” Just like a majority of the series’ viewers, I couldn’t stop after just one episode and finished the seven-part docu-series in just two days.

In the series, we are introduced to Joseph Maldonado-Passage—known widely by his professional name Joe Exotic—a gay, polyamorous zoo owner; Carole Baskin, an animal rights activist and owner of Big Cat Rescue; and Mahamayavi Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, another zoo owner with multiple wives and a number of other employees who live on his property.

Beyond the memes going viral on social media of tiger breeder Exotic’s eyebrow ring barely holding on and a Tik-Tok dance to a song about how Baskin—the archenemy of Exotic—murdered her husband, there are major issues being ignored in Netflix’s latest smash-hit series.

This is not surprising considered the series’ lack of focus on the many atrocities it contains and the current state of fear in the world due to the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19.

In just the second episode, we witness Saff Saffery, a former employee of Exotic’s Oklahoma-based zoo, lose his arm in a tiger mauling accident. Exotic’s behavior when this happened was wacky, running to change into an emergency medical service jacket and nonchalantly announcing the incident to visitors at the park. But the most upsetting and insensitive factor is that Saffery is misgendered throughout the series. In an interview with Esquire, Saffery did not seem to take the misgendering to heart but did make it clear he uses he/him pronouns.

Another issue that is not addressed in the series is Exotic and Antle’s predatory behavior. Exotic feeds on young men, hooks them on drugs and doesn’t allow them to leave the zoo’s property, while Antle hires young, beautiful women with the promise of working with large cats before forcing them to change their name and appearance.

Although the filmmakers did include an interview with Barbara Fisher, a former employee of Antle, Antle’s sexual and emotional manipulation is never addressed directly. During the interview with Fisher, she shared that she was forced to undergo cosmetic surgery to enlarge her breasts.

These are just some of the issues at play and, as viewers, we are never sure what to take seriously or laugh at because of the series’ absurdity and bombardment of topics. Did Baskin really kill her husband? Does Antle euthanize tiger cubs that no longer make him a profit? Should we be focusing on these things, or are they just another storyline included to stir more controversy?

“Tiger King” has additionally caught the attention of celebrities, such as rapper Cardi B, who tweeted that she was going to set up a GoFundMe to raise money to free Exotic. She later tweeted that she was “just playing” about the campaign after TMZ reported that GoFundMe does not allow money to be raised toward the defense of inmates convicted of violent crimes. Not only was Cardi B’s tweet untimely considering that same money could go toward coronavirus relief, but it is absurd to want to free a man guilty of numerous crimes.

It is important to be able to laugh during this uncertain, stressful time, but let’s not lose focus on the many problems “Tiger King” has. We are allowed to make memes about Exotic and Baskin’s rivalry, but we should be making just as many posts on Twitter that call out toxic behavior to push people to take action.

We are so focused on the outrageous characters and their antics that we aren’t considering that the “stories” of the series are incidents that have impacted real, human lives and the lives of wild animals.


If you have strong feelings about the series, RSVP here for Columbia’s free “Cinema Slapdown” and tune in via Zoom Thursday, April 16 at 7 p.m., where faculty from the Cinema and Television Arts Department will debate Netflix’s “Tiger King.” Cinema Slapdown will also be streamed on Facebook LIVE here.