Why you should watch Netflix’s Tiger King

By Thymen Wijma | April 25, 2020

Tiger King is the latest hit show airing on Netflix. Most people seem to have heard about or have seen the show. For those that do not yet know it, the show depicts a tale about tiger owners, the trade of petting tigers, and murderous intent by the main character. Tiger King has received a lot of criticism as well as support due to the way it depicts tiger owners and traders as well as people that own shelters for previously captive tigers. However, instead of focussing on a genuine balance of morals, the series fictionalized its characters to a point that it becomes harmful to those that want to protect animals as well as the animals itself.

Tiger King is labeled as a true-crime documentary on Maldonado Passage, also known as Joe Exotic. Joe is a former zookeeper turned tiger breeder that sells cub tigers for petting. This trade is a hot topic due to problems caused by tigers that get too big to pet. Often these animals become neglected, and Joe’s case he kills them. For years animal activists have stood up against this type of trade with little to no success. This is where Carol Baskin comes into the story, a big cat sanctuary owner. After repeated criticisms made by ms. Baskin and a filed lawsuit, Exotic decided he wanted to have her killed. 

Even though Joe exotic is serving a 22-year prison sentence, critics of the documentary feel that the show has a negative influence on the way we view ownership of big cats. In their opinion the documentary fails at clearly defining the difference between people like Joe that trade in big cats and those that protect them, like Carol Baskin. the show’s creators allegedly manipulated footage to depict the living conditions of tigers at ms. Baskin’s sanctuary as cruel. In reality this isn’t true at all, official sources confirm that this sanctuary follows every regulation regarding living conditions for these types of animals. Still, Carol Baskin has received numerous threats following the release of the series due to the unfair depiction of her sanctuary. 


After it’s debut, the directors of the series have been plagued with allegations about their intentions. Even though they claim to have the best intentions in mind for the animals that feature in Tiger King, experts doubt whether this is true. Similar projects regarding captive animals like the film Blackfish have succeeded in raising awareness against animal cruelty. Tiger King however will most likely lead to the influx of people wanting to own big cats as pets say animal experts. “By highlighting the glamour around ownership of tigers, efforts to end the abuse and ownership of big cats could be harmed.” Not only the narrative of the series is disputed, several key-figures that star in the series have come forth with allegations over the sincerity of its creators. Allegedly, enormous amounts of cash was paid for interviews about Joe Exotic as well as ownership of big cats. The creators of the series refute this and claim that they have never paid anyone to star in Tiger King.

On social media the supporters and critics of Joe Exotic have fought non stop over the morality that the series tries to depict. the hashtag FreeJoe has been trending numerous times, as well as hashtags containing condemnations of Carol Baskin. Even though it should be clear that people that enslave animals, breed them for the pleasure of rich people and then dispose of them should be condemned, Americans seem to be divided on the topic. Experts on both exotic animals as well as documentary makers seem to conclude that the power that the medium of film holds regarding topics like these should be handled with care. By accurately portraying the issue harm could be done instead of helping the animals in question. 

Tiger King is a look into the world of exotic animal ownership, the process of breeding them, and the people behind this business. Even though the series should be watched with care, I think it is representative of a movement in documentary making that fails at objectively portraying facts. Instead, it offers us a great example of the so-called true crime genre that has been slightly meddled with. When watched with caution, I highly recommend watching Tiger King on Netflix.