In one of her first big interviews since the release of Netflix’s “Tiger King,” Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin tells the Tampa Bay Times she is angry with the Netflix series’ directors for allegedly betraying her and with viewers for missing the entire point of the show. “Tiger King” tracks the rivalry between Baskin and Joe Exotic, a big cat purveyor from Oklahoma who is now in jail for conspiring to murder Baskin. Joe Exotic alleges Baskin killed her ex-husband and fed him to her tigers. The disappearance of Baskin’s ex-husband has become such a breakout talking point from the series that Florida police have reopened the investigation into the matter.
“I just feel so angry that people have totally missed the point,” Baskin said to the Times. “And the point is these cubs are being abused and exploited and the public is enabling that.”
Baskin echoed similar points made last week by tiger biologist John Goodrich, who called “Tiger King” appalling in how it prioritizes the antics of Joe Exotic over the actual harm and abuse he carried out on his tigers. Baskin said after “Tiger King” debuted in March that directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin duped her by pitching the show as the equivalent of “Blackfish,” which took an inside look at the abuse facing killer whales at Sea World, only to focus more on the criminal case of Joe Exotic and her ex-husband’s disappearance. Speaking to the Times, Baskin said she trusted her “Tiger King” directors because Goode has a history with the wildlife conservation group Turtle Conservancy and a “Tiger King” producer helped make “The Cove,” the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary about dolphin hunting in Japan.
In her Times interview, Baskin also alleged the directors presented footage in a misleading fashion to incriminate her, pointing to a scene in which she is shown on video talking to the camera in front of a lion who is in a cramped enclosure. The show leads viewers to believe Baskin is neglecting the animal, but Baskin told the Times the lion “had just wandered from his 4,000-square-foot enclosure into the narrow feeding chute and was free to wander back out.”
Animal Defenders International has come to Baskin’s defense, issuing the following statement in support of Big Cat Rescue: “It provides natural vegetation, pools, added enrichment. From ‘Tiger King,’ you would not recognize this as the place where our ex-circus tiger from Peru, Hoover, stepped through the woods and into the lake and began to swim for the first time in his life; such scenes were not shown.”
Howard Baskin, Carole’s husband and co-owner of Big Cat Rescue, said to the Times about the Netflix series, “There’s almost no way to describe the intensity of the feeling of betrayal.”
Baskin has been facing off against Goode and Chaiklin since the show premiered. The directors told the Los Angeles Times they never duped Baskin or pitched “Tiger King” to her as some kind of big cat version of “Blackfish.” Good and Chaiklin pointed to how Carole spoke freely on various topics, including the disappearance of her ex-husband, as evidence Baskin knew “Tiger King” was going to be about more than just big cats. Baskin told the Times the only reason she spoke openly about “the disappearance of her ex-husband on camera, and the antics of Joe Exotic, is because producers told her the details would be used as background context — not as the main thrust of the series.”
Viewers have embraced “Tiger King” in overwhelming fashion, with many of them now convinced Baskin killed her ex-husband and using the hashtag #FreeJoeExotic to show support to Baskin’s rival. Baskin condemned viewers for becoming fans of Joe Exotic and blamed the series for not showing the full extent of his abuse towards big cats. One moment in “Tiger King” shows Joe Exotic ripping a cub away from his mother, but it’s a cutaway clip and not the focus of an episode.
“They saw those cubs being dragged away from their mother. Where are those memes? Where are those comments?” Baskin said to the Times about viewers.
Baskin added she’s now receiving death threats. “I’ve had to turn my phone off,” she said. “I can’t tell the real ones from the fake ones because they’re always out of state numbers anyway.”
“Tiger King” is streaming now on Netflix. The streaming giant aired an after special over the weekend titled “The Tiger King and I” (read IndieWire’s review), but Baskin did not participate.