Review of Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness
Joe Exotic wanted to be famous. The self-absorbed owner of the private zoo Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park had grandiose dreams. One day the whole world would know his name. He ran for president. After getting nowhere in that effort, he ran for Governor of Oklahoma. He managed to convince nearly 20% of Oklahomans to vote for him. Today, Joe Exotic has finally achieved his dream. Except he isn’t in a position to enjoy it. Instead, he sits in an Oklahoma prison serving a twenty-two-year prison sentence for his involvement in a
Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joe Maldonado-Passage, is guilty of the crime of selling tiger cubs. Whether or not he is guilty of a murder-for-hire plot is another question. My personal opinion is that he was setup.
To say that this docuseries has an abundance of colorful characters is an understatement. It takes a unique personality to raise exotic animals. A full-grown tiger is not a pet. It’s also not cheap. The cost to raise one of these animals can range from $3,000 to $10,000 a year. Joe cut down his costs by using donated expired meat from Walmart. At his peak, Joe had 227 tigers. Joe generated money through donations and visitors to his animal park. He also made money selling tiger cubs to individuals and other animal parks, even though it’s illegal to do so. Joe also took the animals on the road where he would display them at malls. He would let people get selfies with tigers and then sell them the photographs.
The owner of another animal park, Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue in Florida, made it her mission to shut Joe down. She called malls to let them know that what Joe was doing was illegal. She reported Joe to animal abuse organizations. The fines and loss of income led to a longstanding feud between Joe and Carole.
The animosity Joe had toward Carole Baskin manifested itself into alarming social media posts, videos, and outright threats of physical violence. Those social media posts hurt Joe later at his trial. Authorities took Joe’s verbal threats seriously after talking to informants with questionable motives. To get a conviction, however, there had to be more than just verbal threats. There had to be a payment to a hitman. At this point, I believe entrapment was involved. The hitman wasn’t credible. He testified under oath that he was in Florida, where Carole lived. Yet there is no evidence of that. The evidence indicates that he never went to Florida. The supposed cash payment is equally murky. Joe testified that he gave Allen, the supposed hitman, $3,000
Lost in all the chaos are the animals. There’s no question that all of the players in this bizarre world had good intentions at the start. As things started to collapse around Joe, greed and self-preservation took over. There’s one scene toward the end involving two chimpanzees. The two chimps lived in adjacent cages for ten years. Joe eventually sold the two chimps to another facility, one with larger enclosures that allowed the chimps more freedom. When the two chimps encountered each other, they hugged. It’s a powerful scene. The fact that Joe is now the one in a cage is not lost on the viewer.