You know the phrase, “my name’s Bennett and I ain’t in it”?
For all the talk surrounding “Tiger King,” Netflix‘s wild new docu-series about breeding big cats like tigers and lions, the lack of any semblance of racial diversity has been a popular topic to discuss among Black folks on social media. Only this time around, there has been no viral hashtag complaining about just how white the series is that Netflix describes as a “true murder-for-hire story from the underworld of big cat breeding.”
In fact, in a decided departure from social media campaigns lamenting no Black people in any given hit TV or cinematic production, people advocating for more diverse images to be represented on the big and small screens have been conspicuously silent about “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.” Even though it is a series documenting reality, it still could mark the first time in modern history when a lack of racial diversity on a TV show was actually readily welcomed by Black people.
But a quick search of social media (and a look back in history) easily explains why the reversal of stances for the new series: Black folks have typically shown they don’t want to be associated in any way with the antics shown in the series except to witness the metaphorical train wreck that they say only white people are involved in. Those are fancy words for the familiar and appropriate colloquialism, “my name’s Bennett, and I ain’t in it.”
Whether that assertion is based on fact was apparently not important when it came to social media reactions to the series that stars a man named Joe Exotic (born Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage), also known as the “Tiger King.”
Joe Exotic sported a two-tine mullet and was part of a polyamorous relationship with two other men. The cameras follow him at his personal zoo in Oklahoma where he breeds large cats and enjoys a unique relationship with them typically reserved for scenes from National Geographic specials.
Netflix tells the story of Joe Exotic’s adversarial relationship with a rival breeder, Carole Baskin, and includes his music videos from a country music singing career that never really took off.
Aside from that, the docu-series shows explicit footage that includes references to a tiger ripping off a zoo worker’s arm, a bungee jump gone disastrously wrong and, of course, a murder-for-hire case that gets Joe Exotica locked up for unsuccessfully plotting Baskin’s death.
In other words, the series documents activities that Black folks rarely if ever voluntarily participate in. In fact, the only thing “Black” about “Tiger King” was the cameo appearance of Shaquille O’Neal when the NBA legend was shown visiting Joe Exotic’s zoo.
But that was where Shaq’s interest in big cats ended. He recently distanced himself from the riff-raff by addressing it on his podcast and saying he was only a visitor and has never owned a big cat as a pet.
“I was just a visitor,” Shaq said. “I met this guy, not my friend, don’t know him, never had any business dealings with him.”
Shaq’s disclaimers fell in line with those offered up across social media from Black folks who readily viewed the docu-series but were quick to point out the cultural and differences between African Americans and white Americans displayed in “Tiger King.”