Tiger King has become the official streaming obsession of choice for many people in quarantine. Ever since it first hit Netflix, it seems to have found new ways to top itself, be it the fan-made memes, looking up where the docuseries’ key players are now, or subjects coming forward saying they didn’t take kindly to their portrayal by the end of the series that took five years to film.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, co-directors and writers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin set the record straight and addressed complaints made by some of the exotic animal park owners. One such grievance came from Florida cat park owner, and Joe Exotic’s nemesis, Carole Baskin, who accused the creators of Tiger King of “being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers,” claiming they sold her on the idea of the series by saying it would be similar to Blackfish.
“I would just say we were completely forthright with the characters,” Chaiklin told the L.A. Times. “With any project that goes on for five years, things evolve and change, and we followed it as any good storyteller does. We could have never known when we started this project that it was going to land where it did.”
In the series, Baskin strongly opposes Exotic’s practice of breeding lions and tigers for profit. For those who watched already, we know that Baskin’s story arc in Tiger King is not solely focused on the ethics of big cat ownership and her park. It also delves into the mysterious disappearance of her husband, Don Lewis, in 1997.
In a lengthy rebuttal of the docuseries on her animal park’s website, Baskin writes, “It has a segment 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...The series presents this without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims.”
Goode told the L.A. Times that the scope of their interviews with Baskin suggest that she knew the subject was much wider than just her animal park. “Carole talked about her personal life, her childhood, abuse from her first and second husband, the disappearance of her ex, Don Lewis,” said Goode, adding that Baskin was in no way coerced into giving interviews or participating.
“The other thing I would say about all these people is that there was a lack of intellectual curiosity to really go and understand or even see these animals in the wild,” Goode continued. “Certainly, Carole really had no interest in seeing an animal in the wild...the lack of education, frankly, was really interesting — how they had built their own little utopias and really were only interested in that world and the rules they had created.”
That’s a pretty harsh call-out on Baskin, who portrays herself as “the good guy” throughout the documentary. Perhaps Cardi B is onto something. There is no clear-cut hero and villain in Tiger King. Only a lot of animal print clothing and jaw-dropping scenes waiting to be made into memes.