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The founder and CEO of Florida-based non-profit animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue, Baskin is heavily featured in Tiger King, which centers on Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka “Joe Exotic.” The series chronicles his eventual arrest and conviction on multiple charges of animal abuse as well as a murder-for-hire plot to kill Baskin.
The third episode of Tiger King focuses on Baskin and allegations that she was involved in the death of her husband Don Lewis, a millionaire who disappeared in 1997, and was later declared legally dead in 2002. In the wake of the documentary’s release, Baskin has spoken out to refute the depiction of her husband’s disappearance, writing, “The series presents this without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims. They did not care about truth. The unsavory lies are better for getting viewers.”
“When the directors of the Netflix documentary Tiger King came to us five years ago they said they wanted to make the big cat version of Blackfish (the documentary that exposed abuse at SeaWorld) that would expose the misery caused by the rampant breeding of big cat cubs for cub petting exploitation and the awful life the cats lead in roadside zoos and back yards if they survive,” says Baskin. “There are not words for how disappointing it is to see that the series not only does not do any of that, but has had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers.”
In her lengthy post on BigCatRescue.org, Baskin addresses various ways in which she’s depicted in Tiger King, defending her animal sanctuary’s practices versus Joe Exotic’s Oklahoma-based G.W. Zoo, as well as taking on the circumstances surrounding her husband’s disappearance — including rumors that Baskin used a meat grinder to dispose of her husband’s body.
“Our meat grinder was one of those little tabletop, hand crank things, like you’d have in your kitchen at home,” writes Baskin, followed by a picture of such a device. “Meat had to first be cut into one-inch cubes like you see here to go through it. The idea that a human body and skeleton could be put through it is idiotic. But the Netflix directors did not care. They just showed a bigger grinder.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Tiger King co-producers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin addressed Baskin’s comments about the series: “I would just say we were completely forthright with the characters. With any project that goes on for five years, things evolve and change, and we followed it as any good storyteller does. We could have never known when we started this project that it was going to land where it did.”
Baskin is not the only person who appears in Tiger King to speak out against their depiction in the series. Also on that list: NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, who is featured in an installment visiting Joe Exotic’s G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma.
Speaking on his podcast The Big Podcast With Shaq, O’Neal said, “I love tigers. I love white tigers. Do I put donations to these zoos to help these tigers out? I do it all the time. Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers. Listen, people are going to make their own opinions, but, again, I was just a visitor. I met this guy — not my friend. Don’t know him. Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”
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