In a world where nothing seems all too surprising anymore, Netflix’s Tiger Kings is the bizarre docu-series proving us wrong.  

The series follows the eccentric life of Joseph Maldonado-Passage – otherwise known as Joe Exotic –a keeper and breeder of big cats. If there’s one thing Joe Exotic is, is entertaining and extremely delusional. He describes himself as a “gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet” and his lack of self-awareness and love of attention even leads to attempts at running for President in 2016. However, what begins as a series exposing the exploitation of big cats in the United States evolves into a bizarre tale of murder-for-hire, accidental suicide, cults, polygamy, animal cruelty and above all of that, an intense rivalry that leads to Maldonado-Passage’s downfall. 

Filmed over the course of five years, the seven-episode series directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin has watchers hooked from the get-go as the shadowy characters and practices of the animal world are uncovered. From cub-petting to the sale of rare endangered cats, the documentary reveals the dark underbelly of the United States, unknown to many people. According to statistics, there are more privately-owned tigers in the US – roughly between 5,000 to 10,000 – than there are in the wild which is home to fewer than 4,000.  

Owning a private zoo known as the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, Joe Exotic is one such owner of big cats. Maldonado-Passage made a career and life out of being a zoo operator, hosting an online reality TV show where he streamed the going-ons at the zoo and travelling around the country hosting sideshows where visitors could pet tigers. His approach caught the attention of Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin, an advocate for stopping businesses like his and with whom Joe has enjoyed a long-lasting feud that eventually leads to federal charges.  

At the risk of giving too many details away, Tiger Kings isn’t just a detailed look into the illusive world of big cat ownership, but the shady characters who make profit from it. While Joe Exotic is certainly the breakout star of the documentary, Tiger Kings presents a host of characters just as bizarre as him. From Carole Baskin, a rescuer of big cats who may have fed her husband to her tigers, to Doc Antle, who runs something of a cult with several impressionable young women and Jeff Lowe, a seedy financer who uses animals as a means of enticing women into sex. It’s safe to say that these larger-than-life personalities make for great watching and a fantastic way of briefly forgetting what’s going in the world right now.   

Photo Credit: The Sun

Aisha Mohamed