Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness–Netflix Hot Docuseries

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Netflix seven-part docuseries about the illicit world of private zoos and big-cat breeders, debuted March 20 amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

Viewers can’t seem to get enough of its outrageous cast of characters — led by the Tiger King himself, Joseph Maldanado-Passage. He’s known as Joe Exotic, a gay polygamist zookeeper from Oklahoma, now serving 22 years for ordering a hit on his nemesis, Florida tiger sanctuary-owner Carole Baskin.

In the series, Carole is depicted as a possible suspect in the 1997 disappearance of husband Don Baskin, as well as animal-rights violations, including killing of five baby tigers.

The co-directors of Tiger King are Eric Goode, a New York City restaurateur and hotelier turned wildlife conservationist, and documentary filmmaker Rebecca Chaiklin.

Origins of Series

REBECCA CHAIKLIN: I worked for Eric at one of his super groovy nightclubs when I was in college and we became friendly. Then we sort of lost track of each other. But then we were at a super posh dinner party where he started telling me about this crazy world and I was making documentaries and he merely captured my attention. I started hounding him about what he had told me and I’ll let him take it because he was sort of in this world way before I was and I knew nothing about it.

ERIC GOODE: I’ve been in the world of exotic animals my entire life. I was a kid that loved reptiles and eventually started an organization dedicated to saving turtles and tortoises, called the Turtle Conservancy, where we protect land and basically do species conservation around the world. But all of my life I was peripherally involved in these exotic animal owners and exotic animal dealers, primarily reptile dealers in the U.S. I had been filming in a very ad hoc way around the world, filming smuggling in Madagascar and exotic animal markets and bush meat markets, markets in Asia.

After meeting Rebecca again after all these years at a dinner party, we decided to start filming in the U.S., in a world I knew very well which was reptile smugglers and dealers that had been in and out of prison.

Helpful background

GOODE: These people would Google me and they would see that I ran this organization. They would see that I obviously knew a lot about animals and they were wary because there is a war going on between animal rights activists and people that want to keep exotic animals in the United States. And they were worried that we were coming in and maybe infiltrating their operation and would portray them poorly. But fortunately I spoke their language to a large degree and was able to get a level of comfort and often times it just took multiple tries. That was not true for Carole Baskin or Joe. Joe and Carole were easy access. Joe wanted any attention, all attention. He was an open book, and Carole obviously wanted to get her message out. But people like “Doc” Antle and [drug kingpin and private zookeeper] Mario Tabraue and [Joe Exotic partners] Jeff Lowe and Tim Stark and others were very guarded.

Pitching project to her as “Blackfish” for the tiger world

CHAIKLIN: I don’t think we said it. I think she said it — and to be quite honest, our initial intention was to tell a story with these colorful characters that focused on the issues that we both cared a lot about. There is a big-cat crisis in this country and we wanted to highlight that there are a lot of incredibly cruel practices that are taking place. In the course of making this endeavor, in a million years who would have thought the feud between Joe and Carole would escalate to the place that it did and take all these crazy twists and turns. We had no idea when we first started filming with Carole that she had the history that she had. So yeah, as we filmed a lot of things unfolded — but we hoped that people walked away from this with a understanding that their big cats don’t belong in captivity and they belong in the wild and if we want to protect them that’s where we should be focusing our resources to protect them in the wild.

GOODE: We didn’t want to make a film that was strictly advocacy and that was depressing. The bludgeoning or the torture of these animals — people have a low tolerance for that.  In other films that have been successful — even The Cove that won an Oscar — it’s hard to watch the killing of dolphins. So we wanted to figure out how to make this film interesting and really look at the psychology of the people that were involved, sort of like Best in Show or Grizzly Man, and really dive into that, but at the same time dive into the issues of the ethics of keeping animals in captivity.

The most important thing is that we wanted people to see this series. That’s the silver lining. We have this captive audience in this bizarre time right now, and I hope that people come away really understanding that this process of keeping big cats in captivity is exploitative and is something we didn’t advocate.