Carole Baskin, uncaged
After seeing ‘Tiger King’ series ‘compress’ her character, Big Cat Rescue’s CEO wants to change the narrative with a new series devoted to investigating animal abuse
Carole Baskin isn’t going to take it anymore.
Presented as the ultimate villain on “Tiger King,” the animal-rights activist and CEO of Big Cat Rescue is now the subject of her own Discovery Plus series titled “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight” where she presents her side of the story.
The two-part doc series couldn’t be any more different from its predecessor. It follows Baskin and her husband Howard as they go undercover to catch abuse of endangered animals as it happens.
“I think ‘Tiger King’ tried to compress their characters into caricatures so that people could look at them, point and say ‘oh, aren’t those people weird?’ ” Baskin said. “Whereas ‘Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight’ really takes the three-dimensional approach to looking at the entire situation and everything that has been going into this industry of animal abuse and why that’s ending tigers in the wild.”
Baskin says her series isn’t just a rebuttal to her nemesis and former exotic animal park owner, Joe “Exotic” Maldonado.
“There are all kinds of people that we could have brought into ‘Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight’ that would have been more than willing to say nasty things about each other. We could have made it the same kind of he-said, she-said talking heads that was ‘Tiger King’ but that wasn’t our intent. The big losers in ‘Tiger King’ were the animals. They were like a side thought.
“People are not going to be able to make a lot of memes out of ‘Cage Fight.’ ”
For ‘Cage Fight’ co-executive producer Pat McGee, presenting Baskin’s perspective was also important.
“I was fascinated after watching ‘Tiger King,’ and as a storyteller, a filmmaker, and a producer, you know that there’s the other side,” he said. “When I watched Netflix, I didn’t feel like we ever got to hear the other side of the story.”
While the premise is different, there is still conflict on the new series. Baskin continues to clash with Jeff Lowe and other familiar faces from ‘Tiger King.’ She says their appearance on her program isn’t because of their notoriety from the Netflix series but because they are the biggest offenders.
“The way that ‘Tiger King’ got their list of bad guys was from me. When they came to film me over a five-year period, they asked who the worst were and I gave them the names of the people that we were trying to expose … they are the biggest exploiters and abusers in my opinion.”
Meanwhile, “Tiger King 2” premiered last week — despite Baskin suing Netflix and the show’s production company to block it from being released. In court documents she alleged that season two has unauthorized use of footage of her culled from the first season.
“They would say ‘we think she knows something more’ and cut to some smug look of me staring right into the camera. They have me laughing at really inappropriate times by cutting in something that is totally unrelated. Or cutting in footage of me answering one question with a different question that they asked. I didn’t want them doing it again with the footage that they had shot from the first time around because I did not agree to do any kind of sequel or second series or anything.”
Ultimately, her request to block the footage was denied by a federal judge, and “Tiger King 2” producers also circumvented their lack of access to Baskin by using footage from her own public YouTube video diaries.
“What’s important for people to understand from our lawsuit is that we did not sign up for that. We didn’t agree to that,” she said. McGee agrees.
“I felt that people that watched ‘Tiger King’ got hoodwinked,” he said. “I don’t think Carole got a fair shake … ‘Tiger King’ said that they were going to investigate animal cruelty. They told Carole and Howard that to suck them in, and then they flipped the switch.”
Ironically, Baskin says she released her video diaries to serve as an antithesis to the false narrative that she believes is in play.
“I didn’t think there was any way that if there was to be a ‘Tiger King 2,’ that they wouldn’t capitalize on what they had already misled people to believing. That’s why I put my diary out there. So many people were saying ‘she knows more than she’s telling.’ I said ‘I’ll put my entire diary out there.’ Every stupid thought I’ve ever had, it’s out there and you can determine (the truth) for yourself.”
Discovery Plus also decided to have “Carole Baskin’s Cage Fight” premiere four days before the release of “Tiger King 2” on Netflix. When asked what she thinks Joe Exotic might think about her new project, Baskin didn’t mince words.
“I don’t have anything that I am going to say that is going to change his attitude or change who he is. I don’t think he cares about the animals and I don’t think he ever will.”
McGee disagrees and says that Exotic (who is serving a 22-year sentence after being convicted of hiring a hit man to kill Baskin), will be stung.
“Joe’s going to watch ‘Cage Fight’ and it’s going to hurt because it is the truth … he’s going to have to deal with some internal questions.”
For Baskin, the emphasis in “Tiger King” should have been on the tigers themselves. She promises that will not be misplaced on her show.
“‘Cage Fight’ is everything that goes on behind-the-scenes at these places. People will get a peek behind the closed gates. We’re having to do it from our drone footage. With having people going in under the auspices of being on a tour and prodding the park volunteers who can’t speak up against it.
“The whole thing about my husband disappearing — that was 23 or 24 years ago. There was no reason for anybody to have ever brought any part of that into the first or second episode of ‘Tiger King.’ It’s deflection. It’s the smoke and mirrors to get you to look someplace else.”
Speaking of Baskin’s missing exhusband, “Tiger King 2” has revealed a document from the Department of Homeland Security that asserts Lewis is “currently alive and well in Costa Rica.” If true, it could absolve the Big Cat Rescue CEO from any further suspicion.
Baskin said she was “startled” by the revelation: “I am disappointed that I was never made aware of this. I hope that it is true.”
“CAROLE BASKIN’S CAGE FIGHT” IS NOW STREAMING ON DISCOVERY