It didn’t take long, but the Netflix docuseries, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, has already gotten pushback from some of the colorful personalities featured in this unbelievably true tale about a big cat breeder and roadside zoo owner named Joe Exotic and his longtime nemesis, Carole Baskin, an animal activist and owner of the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary.
The docuseries is the result of a partnership between filmmakers Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode, who has previously depicted obscure American subcultures and became fascinated with the world of animal breeding and zookeeping. When the pair started filming in 2014, Exotic and Baskin were already embroiled in a trademark lawsuit and then things continued to escalate from there. They noted that Baskin was “super accessible” while others, like Doc Antle and other animal owners, were not.
Within days of the release of Tiger King -- which has gone viral and even garnered wild reactions from celebrity viewers -- Baskin has posted a lengthy blog post, “Refuting Netflix Tiger King,” in which she takes issue with how she is portrayed and the directors’ focus on the disappearance of her second husband.
First and foremost, Baskin claims that the directors misled her and her current husband, Howard, who is also featured on-camera as they explain their legal battles with Exotic, their ongoing activism in Congress against the dangers of animal breeding and cub petting, and the history of her sanctuary.
“When the directors of the Netflix documentary Tiger King came to us five years ago they said they wanted to make the big cat version of Blackfish (the documentary that exposed abuse at SeaWorld) that would expose the misery caused by the rampant breeding of big cat cubs for cub petting exploitation and the awful life the cats lead in roadside zoos and back yards if they survive,” she writes. “There are not words for how disappointing it is to see that the docuseries not only does not do any of that but has had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers.”
Baskin also took issue with how her marriage to millionaire Jack Donald Lewis and his subsequent disappearance was portrayed in Tiger King. “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 21 years ago,” she writes. “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. They did not care about truth. The unsavory lies are better for getting viewers.”
In the episode, several people close to Lewis claim that his marriage with Baskin was falling apart and days before his disappearance in 1997 she threatened his life. He attempted to get a restraining order, but it was rejected by a local judge. Lewis’ first wife, Gladys, as well as his former assistant, Anne McQueen, allege that she tampered with his wills and used his disappearance to take ownership of his financial affairs.
“After Don disappeared there were years of my having to manage the properties under a Conservatorship demanded by Gladys and the daughters. The numerous attorneys they involved, all being paid out of the estate, reduced the assets significantly,” Baskin writes, explaining that what was left was allocated appropriately. “The claim the girls made in the series that I picked the assets they got and that they were bad assets is nonsense.”
In addition to the financial claims made by Lewis’ ex-wife and daughters, Exotic alleges on camera that Baskin was not only responsible for her second husband’s death but that she also fed his remains to a tiger in her sanctuary. (He even filmed a music video with a Baskin look-alike feeding meat to one through a cage.)
“This is the most ludicrous of all the lies,” Baskin writes, blaming “Gladys and the daughters” for perpetuating this rumor in interviews and the media following Lewis’ disappearance. “They spread this rumor that they thought I had ground Don up and fed him to the cats. And the media loved it. The meat grinder shown in the video was enormous. Our meat grinder was one of those little tabletop, hand crank things, like you’d have in your kitchen at home, like the one pictured here.”
But when it comes to her previous marriage, she concludes by writing, “Don was not easy to live with and like most couples we had our moments. But I never threatened him and I certainly had nothing to do with his disappearance.”
Baskin also took to Twitter, writing that they “understand concerns & remain focused on our mission. We don’t respond to allegations or hateful statements, but monitor for questions about efforts to save the majestic animals.”
Big Cat Rescue worked w directors of Tiger King in good faith & its sensationalism is disappointing. We understand concerns & remain focused on our mission. We don’t respond to allegations or hateful statements, but monitor for questions about efforts to save the majestic animals— Big Cat Rescue (@BigCatRescue) March 25, 2020
In addition to breaking down Baskin’s reactions, ET has put together a guide to Tiger King’s key characters and their interwoven stories and answers to many of your big questions, like the possibility of a second season.