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Several of the subjects of the hit Netflix documentary series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” are speaking out against the filmmakers, calling the finished product “salacious” and “outrageous.”
Key characters in the story of former zookeeper Joseph Maldonado-Passage (better known as Joe Exotic) have come forward to bash co-directors and writers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin for allegedly sensationalizing the feud between Joe and Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle and Jeff Lowe spoke separately with TMX.news, a media company, to clarify several details they believe the documentary exaggerated or simply got wrong about their story.
Antle, who runs Myrtle Beach Safari and was portrayed as a mentor to Joe, slammed the Netflix series, which has been viewed by countless people staying home and practicing social-distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic, for allegedly lying to him about the type of show he was participating in.
“Remember, this is not a documentary. This is a salacious, outrageous ride through a television show produced to create drama, to just tie you into some crazy train wreck of a story between the feud of Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic, and the meltdown that ensued between two people who both are far too close to murder themselves, and I think a little bit of madness thrown in on their parts,” Antle told TMX.news (via People).
The documentary discusses the bitter rivalry between Joe and Baskin that ultimately led to Joe being found guilty and sent to prison for paying a hitman $3,000 to kill Baskin. Meanwhile, the series alleges that Baskin had something to do with the disappearance of her husband, Jack “Don” Lewis. However, Baskin denies any involvement.
Antle says that he, “worked with the director for two and a half years, saw him probably five or six times for several days in a row each time. That endless portrayal of a program that he was doing with us was purely about a wildlife conservation show about our work that we’re doing in Sumatra, Africa, to save endangered species there. It was all about how the tigers that we have here have raised so much money that we’ve been able to go to Sumatra and create a new ranger station there … and that was the documentary that I worked on, and all of that stuff somehow found its way to the cutting room floor.”
He added: “It was not mentioned in any capacity that this show that I was working on would portray anything about Carole or Joe. Questions about Carole and Joe were a dozen or so thrown into hundreds of others, and I repeatedly told them I have no desire to be involved in some show where you’ve got the feud of Carole and Joe going on, it’s not my thing, leave me out of it. Over and over, that was the intention, and that’s what we worked towards.”
Antle specifically took issue with the documentary implying that he euthanizes tiger cubs once they age out of being profitable as photo opportunities for guests, completely denying that euthanizations take place at his zoo. He also criticized the filmmakers’ decision to end the documentary with a line about his zoo being raided by authorities, saying that he was simply asked to participate in sharing the DNA of some lions for a separate case in Virginia. In addition, he was frustrated that the documentary portrayed his zoo as being run by his multiple wives, claiming that he is single.
“I’m a single guy. My wife died 25 years ago, the mother of my son and daughter, my youngest ones, and I’ve never been married since. I have girlfriends, I’m a single guy. This massive judgmentalness [sic] of somehow I’m not supposed to have girlfriends or something is just off my rocker here with how they got to this point,” he said. “They are just looking for something to be outrageous. The girls that they are showing throughout the facility … these are the girls that are the wives of staff who live here, these are my grandchildren, these are my grandchildren’s fiancés, these are my son’s fiancée, this is a variety of ladies who devote their time here that are part of a team. The team is half men. Did you see any men in the series? They cut them all out to make it appear that this is a girl place.”
In a separate interview with TMX.news, Lowe, Joe’s former business partner who now runs his zoo, took issue with the documentary’s implication that he stole the zoo from Joe.
“They touched on about 10 percent of the story and, you know, the portrayal of us stealing the zoo from Joe was very unfair because we came here to help him, we got it back on its feet. We left to move away because we didn’t want to be in a zoo in Oklahoma, so the notion that we tried to steal the zoo from him is just ridiculous. But, you know, here we are in a zoo in Oklahoma,” he explained.
Lowe also touched upon his role in getting Joe arrested not just for the plot to murder Baskin, but the euthanization of five tigers at the zoo.
“We were being looked at by the feds just like Joe was, so we knew that and we had to protect ourselves. And if it means turning over a guy to the federal authorities that killed not just five tigers — five tigers was just the tip of the iceberg. You know, he’s killed a hundred tigers here that were not beneficial to him monetarily,” Lowe alleged of Joe. “And you know it’s just the five that they picked, we knew exactly where they were buried and we knew exactly how they died, so it was the five easiest to prosecute him and convict him on.”
As for the murder-for-hire plot, Lowe admitted that he did talk about getting rid of Baskin with Joe every day, but not in any kind of serious way. However, he notes that it was more of an obsession with Joe.
“It was a constant,” Lowe explained. “Every day, it wasn’t about caring for the tigers, it wasn’t about taking care of your staff — it was about: ‘How do I eliminate Carole Baskin?’ We all knew it and it just got to the point where once Joe started making aggressive moves towards a plan, we knew we had to get out of here.”
The filmmakers previously responded to criticism about the film laid out by Baskin, who took issue with the implication that she had anything to do with her husband’s disappearance. Goode and Chaiklin told the Los Angeles Times that they believe they were upfront with everyone about what they were making.
“I would just say we were completely forthright with the characters,” Chaiklin said. “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.”
Added Goode: “Carole talked about her personal life, her childhood, abuse from her first and second husband, the disappearance of her ex, Don Lewis. She knew that this was not just about … it’s not a ‘Blackfish’ because of the things she spoke about. She certainly wasn’t coerced.”