For years, a man named Joseph Maldonado-Passage ran a roadside zoo in Oklahoma that specialized in exhibiting big cats, particularly tigers. He sold himself as Joe Exotic, the “Tiger King,” and that was just the first of many eccentricities that comprised the mullet-boasting, gun-wielding zookeeper. He was also a polygamist, a country-western singer, a one-time candidate for governor and president, and was accused of instigating a murder-for-hire plot to take out an animal rights activist who had it in for him.
Joe Exotic will be at the center of a new Netflix docuseries, Tiger King, set to premiere this Friday, March 20th. While every aspect of Joe’s life will be delved into, the film also uses him as a jumping off point to explore the broader world exotic animal ownership — especially big cat people — as this exclusive clip from the first episode of Tiger King shows.
Joe himself isn’t featured in the snippet until the end, when he’s seen making a video call from prison, but the lead up to that moment offers a tantalizing glimpse at the psyches of these animal obsessives. Amidst a montage of archival footage of all kinds of animal trainers, one interview subject notes, “Animal people are nuts,” while another breaks down different types of animal people. “The monkey people are a little bit different, they’re kind of strange,” he says. “But the big cat people are backstabbing.”
Tiger King was directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin. In a press interview, Goode spoke about balancing Joe’s wild true-crime story and his wider conservationist aims as a filmmaker, saying, “I’ve been in this exotic animal world for a long time, and I wanted to expose the exploitation and the suffering of these cats. The challenge was to create a new type of series that looks at the pathology of animal people and the ethics of keeping exotic animals. I am a conservationist and I believe in animal welfare. There are good zoos, and there are bad zoos. The good ones participate in bonafide species survival programs that have had a role in bringing back species on the brink of extinction, and there are bad zoos that only exploit animals for commercial gain.”