PETA is urging Kate McKinnon and Universal Content Productions and Wilsher Studios president Dawn Olmstead to use only CGI cats in their upcoming scripted series about Joe Exotic (real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage), the now-imprisoned big-cat breeder who is the topic of the recently released Netflix docuseries “Tiger King,” TheWrap has learned exclusively.
“We haven’t been able to confirm their production plans, which is why we’re keeping the pressure on,” the animal rights organization told TheWrap on Friday. “Our hope is no real big cats or other animals will be used.”
Last November, McKinnon signed on to star in and executive produce the TV adaptation of Wondery’s “Joe Exotic” podcast, a project that’s still in the development stage at UCP, portraying a big-cat enthusiast named Carole Baskin, who learns that Maldonado-Passage is breeding and using his big cats for profit.
“Carole sets out to shut down his venture and incites a quickly escalating rivalry,” according to UCP’s description of the potential series. “But she has a checkered past of her own, and when the claws come out, Joe will stop at nothing to expose her hypocrisy, and the results prove deadly.”
(On Tuesday, the real-life Baskin called Netflix’s “Tiger King” “salacious and sensational.” Yes, she is alive and well, though Maldonado-Passage was found guilty of hiring a hitman to kill Baskin. He was sentenced to 22 years in a federal prison.)
“Tiger King,” the documentary by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, has been a smash hit for Netflix and on social media. The docuseries, which launched last Friday, has been Netflix’s No. 1 title overall in the U.S. since Monday, per the streaming service, and was the second-most-tweeted-about series in the country over the last 10 days, according to Twitter.
Hernan Lopez and Marshall Lewy of the podcast network Wondery will executive produce UCP’s scripted project alongside McKinnon.
Representatives for McKinnon, Olmstead and UCP did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment. PETA also did not immediately hear back from its outreach, a spokeswoman told TheWrap.
TheWrap has obtained copies of the letters PETA sent to both McKinnon and Olmstead, which you can read below.
First, the one sent to McKinnon:
Netflix’s Tiger King is calling critical attention to the abuse and neglect endured by big cats used for entertainment–progress that will be undone if real wild animals are used in your upcoming Joe Exotic series. While we don’t anticipate that a story about wild-animal abuse would feature real animals, who suffer when used for television, we do hope to hear right away that CGI or even existing footage will be used for the show instead of big cats and other wild animals.
Thank you for your time and prompt attention to this important matter. I hope you and yours are staying safe and healthy, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Assistant Manager, Animals in Film and Television
And now, to Olmstead:
Dear Ms. Olmstead,
Netflix’s Tiger King is calling critical attention to the abuse and neglect endured by big cats and other wild animals used for entertainment–progress that will be undone if real wild animals are used in Universal Content Production’s upcoming Joe Exotic series.
When wild animals are used for entertainment–whether by roadside zoo operators like those featured in Tiger King or for the film and TV industry by trainers–they suffer. Most wild animals do everything that they can to avoid humans, but those used by trainers are forced into close proximity with their captors and are also deprived of their families, their freedom, and anything remotely natural to them.
Animals used in the entertainment industry are routinely separated from their mothers prematurely and denied the maternal care that they need for normal development, which can result in extreme physical and psychological distress. When no longer deemed “useful,” many animals used for film or TV are dumped at seedy roadside zoos, including the chimpanzees seen in Tiger King. Investigations have uncovered animals being whipped and kept in deplorable conditions by animal suppliers.
Wild animals are exactly that–they’re wild, and no amount of training can ever completely override their natural instincts, making them extremely dangerous. They belong in their natural habitats or otherwise at reputable sanctuaries–not in animal training compounds, on green screen stages, or at roadside zoos. Reputable sanctuaries never breed or sell wild animals, never allow public encounters with them, and never cart them to and from film and TV sets.
We hope you’ll agree that using technology such as CGI or animatronics or existing footage is the only conscionable way of depicting animals for your series. While we don’t anticipate that a story about wild-animal abuse would feature real animals who suffer when used for film or television, would you please confirm that real animals won’t be forced to perform in your series?
Thank you for your time and consideration.
All the best,
Senior Manager, Animals in Film and Television