On July 15, 1997, fashion designer and empire builder Gianni Versace was murdered in front of his South Beach, Miami, Florida, home by 27-year-old Andrew Cunanan. That, 20 years later, is still concrete. But even after a large-scale investigation from local police and the FBI, the “why” behind Versace’s death still remains a mystery. In light of the new series, American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Gianni Versace (writer: Maureen Orth, 10 episodes), it's worth asking, did Gianni Versace know Andrew Cunanan before his murder?
The answer to that is complicated. According to Vanity Fair, eyewitnesses claim that Cunanan and Versace crossed paths on Oct. 21, 1990, at the club Colossus in San Francisco. Versace was on the West Coast because of a stint designing costumes for the San Francisco Opera, and, while at the club, Versace reportedly mistook Cunanan for someone he knew. Versace reportedly said, “Lago di Como, no?” (meaning, "Lake Como, no?") And Cunanan reportedly replied, “Thank you for remembering, Signor Versace.” So, did they meet previously at Lake Como in Italy? Did Versace think he was someone else? Also per Vanity Fair, a friend of Cunanan’s also claimed to have seen Versace, Cunanan, and another friend in a big, white chauffeured car. Although, the truth behind those reports died with Cunanan and Versace. (Cunanan took his own life shortly after Versace's murder)
American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace is obviously about the murder of Versace, but the creators of the limited series think that it’s also about so much more than just one man’s life. Executive producer Nina Jacobson told Variety:
“Some of the themes [in the series are] the contrasts between Cunanan and Versace in the destroyer and the curator. One character is an authentic, honest creator drawing on his heritage, his background his family … and the other goes on a path of destruction because he wants the fame without the work or the talent.”
Jacobson also wants the show to highlight the homophobia and inaction by police in investigating Cunanan's alleged four other victims. As she said to Variety:
“Cunanan was going out clubbing right across the street from the police department. The neglect and the isolation and the ‘otherness’ in the way the police handled the deaths of gay men, with the exception of one of the victims, [made Versace’s death] a death that didn’t have to happen."
Creator Ryan Murphy echoed these sentiments to Biography:
“We're trying to talk about a crime within a social idea. Versace, who was [Andrew Cunanan's] last victim, did not have to die. One of the reasons [Cunanan] was able to make his way across the country and pick off these victims, many of whom were gay, was because of homophobia at the time."
It’s clear that it’s not the intention of the series to dramatize or in any way give reverence to Cunanan — a man who was allegedly so obsessed with becoming famous that he would kill to get it — and star Darren Criss, who plays Cunanan, spoke to Vanity Fair about this balance. “My heart is really sensitive to the people who experienced something so horrible that I’m trying to breathe life into,” Criss said. “[Cunanan was] someone who had the potential to do so much more. How does that person become synonymous with something so sad, violent, or scary?”
If American Crime Story: The People Versus O.J. Simpson spoke to racism in America, and Feud’s underlying theme was that of sexism in America, it’s clearly that Murphy and company plan to tackle homophobia and what it means to be a gay person in America, both at the turn of the millennium and today. Here, the tragic story of Versace and Cunanan on American Crime Story: The Assassination Of Gianni Versace is but a conduit to a much broader story highlighting injustice towards gay people in the United States.
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