Enter Tiger King, the newest staggering documentary series investigating fatal rivalries within the big cat community in the US.
What is Tiger King about?
The series focuses primarily on Joe Exotic – born Joseph Schreibvogel, now legally Joseph Maldonado-Passage – a zoo owner and one of the most prolific tiger cub breeders and sellers in the country.
Beyond just painting a portrait of this one man's colourful life (including a country music career, three husbands – two simultaneous, one subsequent – and a brief political career), Tiger King teases out dynamics between Joe and other zoo owners and animal activists, including breeder and entertainer Doc Antle and conservationist Carole Baskin.
What's the big deal about these people?
Joe Exotic is an entertaining character on his own with his feline kingdom, but what unfolds in Tiger King is a mind-boggling spider's web of rivalry and deceit. Joe seems, in turn, like a hero, a martyr, the devil and a saviour all at once.
His main vendetta is with Carole Baskin, who also seems to hide skeletons in her closet as her multi-millionaire husband mysteriously vanished, and left her his fortune. She runs her own empire, where employees aren't paid and millions of people worship the team on social media.
Then there's Doc Antle, the womanising park owner who allegedly gasses tigers once they are too old to play with and considers himself close to God – and makes the women he hires think the same.
Jeff Lowe (pictured below) also enters the equation, as the Ferrari-driving womanising rich investor, at first a friend to Joe who then reveals himself to be just as capable as acting for his benefit alone.
The relationships are knotty, deceptive, dangerous and saddening. Tiger King reveals a great amount about the conditions of cats, but more about these people.
Why is Tiger King worth watching?
It seems staggering that crimes on such an enormous scale, involving millions of dollars and involving such huge amounts of land, human and animal resources, could go under the radar for so long. If you do some digging, the stories of Joe, Carole, Doc, Jeff and all the others aren't hiding on the internet – but Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin's documentary work exposes the maddening and saddening connections with immense clarity.
Because Joe was so confident in the limelight, the filmmakers were able to access unrestrained archive footage and interviews with all the major players – but also reframe sobering videos of major traumatic moments.
It's not a schlocky, sensationalist late-night drama at all – despite the brash sequins and neverending animal print clothing. In the double standards and greedy, secret ambition of so many of these cat lovers, the focus shifts onto the major vices of insecure humans hungry for an ego boost.
The cats matter, but Tiger King is worth watching for a lucid – and still ongoing – examination of the wicked egotism that ruins the lives, financially and emotionally, of some of the most vulnerable living beings in the world.
It's wholly engrossing – and feels like a major warning sign to be a little kinder, patient and vigilant around those we know too little about.
|What||Tiger King, Netflix: everything you need to know|
20 Mar 20 – 20 Mar 21, NOW STREAMING ON NETFLIX
|Website||Click here to watch on Netflix|