In recent interviews, co-directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin have said that Joe (who recently filed a $94 million lawsuit against the federal government for damages, including false imprisonment) is truly thrilled about his newfound star status. But there were plenty of others who weren’t happy with the documentary:
Animal rights organizations
After the series was released, both the Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the producers glossed over the issue of tiger abuse. (Several of the charges that led to Joe’s prison sentence were from multiple wildlife violations, including the killing of five tigers.) “The animals are the real victims who are caught up in this human drama. The antics of Joe Exotic, Doc Antle and others featured in the series have caused untold misery for countless animals,” Humane Society of the United States Chief Executive Kitty Block told NBC News, which noted the disturbing scene in which Joe pulls a newborn tiger cub away from its mother, and when he holds a photo shoot with cubs who are too young to open their eyes.
PETA brought up many of the same issues, especially the devastating consequences when baby tigers are separated from their mothers too early. “Sure, Joe Exotic’s murder-for-hire plot makes for good television, but Tiger King didn’t delve nearly deeply enough into the abuse of the cub-petting industry,” reads a blog post on the organization’s website.
When asked about not showing brutal scenes of animal cruelty, Goode told Variety, “We had to thread that needle carefully so at the end of the series, it wasn’t preachy or the voice of god telling you how to feel about the cruelty and isolation of the tigers. We wanted people to come to their own conclusions at the end and decide for themselves, and we hope they came away with the outcome that this was a very cruel and abusive practice.”
Carole, who runs the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa and repeatedly emphasized that she runs a tiger sanctuary as opposed to a zoo, has emerged as the villain of the show, especially as the third episode dives into widespread rumors that she killed her millionaire ex-husband and fed him to the tigers. (Her ex-husband, Don Lewis, has been missing for more than two decades.) Carole called that allegation “the most ludicrous of all the lies” in a long blog post that rebutted her portrayal on the series.
“The series presents this without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims. They did not care about truth. The unsavory lies are better for getting viewers. There is no short, simple way to refute so many lies,” she wrote, adding that she felt misled about the direction of the documentary, as the directors told her it would be about exposing tiger abuse.
Goode knows Carole is upset, and told the New York Post he hopes to talk things over with her because he thinks her message in the show was the most valuable: “to stop breeding and exploiting these cats for monetary gain.”
Those who have seen this new footage of Joe
Doc, the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari — which was recently raided by police — is also not happy with how he was portrayed; the series aired allegations of him killing tiger cubs when they get too old to pose with tourists. In a now-deleted Instagram post, he called the series “sensationalized entertainment with paid participants” (the directors said they paid for photo licensing and life rights, but not interviews).
In an interview with TMX News, he said the allegations were lies: “Nothing more ridiculous has ever been said. No one does that.” He is also upset that the series focused on his multiple younger girlfriends: “I have girlfriends, I am a single guy.”
Doc also said he was not told the series would focus on Joe and Carole, and thought the producers amped up the madness. “This is not a documentary,” he said. “This is a salacious, outrageous ride through a television show produced to create drama.”
Viewers who noticed they misgendered Saff
The documentary interviews one of Joe’s employees, Saff, who was mauled by a tiger. Although Saff is a transgender man, the series uses his old name. While this has been roundly criticized, Chaiklin told Variety that she recently had a long conversation with Saff about whether they should go back and make changes: “He’s very relaxed about it and really, to him, it doesn’t matter,” Chaiklin said.
Jeff jumped in to buy Joe’s Oklahoma zoo when Joe spent all his money in legal fees battling Carole, although he and his employees make it seem like Jeff stole the zoo out from under him. Jeff vehemently disagrees. “They touched on about 10 percent of the story,” he said to TMX News. “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 … so the notion we tried to steal the zoo from him was just ridiculous.” But he felt the rest of the series was pretty accurate, even though he told producers, “I wish you had done things a little differently.”
The Post’s Karin Brulliard traveled to Joe Exotic’s zoo to investigate how captive tigers are bought and sold in America