In Carole Baskin's first interview since Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness was released on Netflix last month, the Big Cat Rescue owner and husband Howard Baskin said they feel "betrayed" by the filmmakers. The couple participated in Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin's documentary series because they thought it would focus on the mistreatment of big cats in captivity in the U.S. Instead, as millions of Netflix viewers know, the series truly focuses on the eccentrics owning the tigers, including Joseph Maldonado-Passage, known as "Joe Exotic."
"I just feel so angry that people have totally missed the point," Baskin told the Tampa Bay Times Friday. "And the point is these cubs are being abused and exploited and the public is enabling that." The Baskins said they now face death threats and Baskin has had to turn her phone off. They have even seen drones flying around their home, but what hurt the most was how the film ignored the cause they fight against. "There's almost no way to describe the intensity of the feeling of betrayal," Howard added.
Tiger King begins with Goode explaining he was making a documentary on the exotic animal trade, specifically on lizards, until he spotted a big cat in the back of a man's van. Chaikin and Goode then turned their cameras on the big cat trade, and discovered unique personalities like Doc Antle and Maldonado-Passage. They discovered Maldonado-Passage had a bitter rivalry with Baskin, who had tried to shut down his private Oklahoma zoo for years. An entire episode focused on Maldonado-Passage's theory that Baskin killed her second husband, Don Lewis. Maldonado-Passage is now in prison after he was convicted of hiring a hitman to kill Baskin.
Since the series aired, it was Maldonado-Passage who the public began rallying around. #FreeJoeEotic became a trend on Twitter, and there were even calls for President Donald Trump to pardon him. But Baskin hoped the real result from the series would have been more interest in the mistreatment of big cats by private owners in the U.S. Considering that Goode founded the Turtle Conservatory and one of the show's producers helped make The Cove, a film about dolphin hunting in Japan, they were very disappointed with the reaction.
Baskin has denied any involvement in Lewis' disappearance and police have not labeled her a suspect. Still, strangers leave profanity-laced messages on her phone and Joe Exotic became a meme star. "They saw those cubs being dragged away from their mother," Baskin told the Tampa Bay Times. "Where are those memes? Where are those comments?"
Animal welfare groups also defended Big Cat Rescue, including PETA and the Humane Society. "We hold Big Cat Rescue and the Baskins in highest regard. Not many sanctuaries do rescue and advocacy and Big Cat Rescue does both and they do them very well," Debbie Leahy, senior strategist of captive wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States, said.
This was not the first time Baskin has spoken out against Tiger King. Days after it was released, she published a blog post calling it "salacious and sensational." Goode and Chaiklin defended themselves against Baskin's critiques, telling the Los Angeles Times Baskin was not "coerced" into talking about her personal life and Lewis' disappearance.
"She certainly wasn't coerced," Goode said. "The other thing I would say about all these people is that there was a lack of intellectual curiosity to really go and understand or even see these animals in the wild. Certainly, Carole really had no interest in seeing an animal in the wild.... The lack of education, frankly, was really interesting — how they had built their own little utopias and really were only interested in that world and the rules they had created."
All seven episodes of Tiger King are now available on Netflix. An eighth episode is scheduled to be released on Sunday. Comedian Joel McHale is hosting the episode, which will feature new interviews with those involved in Joe Exotic's life. Baskin is not participating.