“A gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet,” this is the description of Joe Exotic in his own words. He is the Tiger King.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness (titled simply Tiger King) is a 2020 American true-crime documentary streaming television miniseries. The series explores the deeply interconnected communities of large environmentalists and big cat collectors in America, and the private zoos and animal shelters they set up for public care and display of these animals. The main subject of the series is Joe Exotic, the eccentric owner of the GW Zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. It follows his years-long bitter feud with Carole Baskin, the CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida.

Who is the king?

Joseph Allen Maldonado Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, was born in Kansas in 1963 and has been abused since childhood. When he becomes head of the small police department, the family does not accept his sexual orientation, which leads him to attempt suicide by throwing his car off a bridge. He survives, but the accident radically changes him. He moves to Oklahoma, where he creates a zoo which for years is one of the largest tiger farms in America.

Joe thus employs several characters with social problems: homeless, alcoholics, drug addicts, criminals, and individuals taken from the street. He offers them accommodation and few meals, mostly characterized by overdue food and a poor salary.

Who’s fighting against the king?

Carole Baskin, a millionaire activist, has been in the trenches for years fighting for the closure of feline zoos with her association Big Cat Rescue,  She is Joe Exotic’s sworn enemy. Around them, other creepy characters gravitate. Doc Antle, the zoo manager in North Carolina, surrounds himself with concubines who provide services to animals but especially to him. Mario Tabraue: former drug dealer, who used snakes to transport drugs, and also owns several cats. Don Lewis: Carole Baskin’s ex-husband, a millionaire whose tracks get lost.

The facts that surround this feud between Joe and Carole are unbelievable. Joe accuses Baskin of having him mauled by a feline, so she sues him. Drags him to court, and comes up with a million-dollar settlement. Which she’ll never see because he doesn’t have that kind of money.

Meanwhile, Joe looks at the sky through the bars of a window of the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, where he is detained because of his pathology. He’s serving a 22-year sentence for a long list of violent animal crimes. He’s in charge of trafficking exotic specimens and shooting down old tigers in his zoo because he needed space. All of this, in addition to the charge of conspiracy to murder Carole Baskin.

Why is it so popular?

Joe Exotic and his story have an extraordinary catalytic power. The documentary filmmaker Eric Goode saw it, and has been able to grasp this potential to turn it into a miniseries. In the director’s initial plans, there was the idea of making a documentary on the traffic of reptiles in the USA. It was enough to learn about the figure of Joe Exotic to adjust the shot. Tiger King talks about Joe Exotic and his zoo of big cats, but there is much more.

The episodes are incredibly compelling and raw at the same time. Tiger King is almost entirely dedicated to creating a show, with little interest in the sense of truth. And the truth is as inconvenient as Tiger King is sensational. As in Nomadland, which analyzes the American Dream, here there’s another look at it, more obsessive and fanciful. 

64 million households worldwide watched astonished, as this eccentric figure narrated his own story, in a rather proud way, through a Federal Medical Centre wall. The TV perfect mix of reality and entertainment for audiences who, at the time it came out, were just people in lockdown.