For a show with the word "Versace" in its title, there has been a decided lack of the famous fashion designer in The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (producer, 5 episodes: Maggie Cohn) lately. But he makes a comeback — by way of coming out — in the fifth episode of Season 2, "Don't Ask Don't Tell." Gianni Versace's coming out interview is a true event that inspired a whole generation of young gay men… and consequently served as a major part of the inspiration behind The Assassination Of Gianni Versace (executive producer: Alexis Martin Woodall) itself.
For two episodes in a row, Versace (series casting: Nicole Daniels) has focused solely on the man who cut Versace's life short — alleged serial killer Andrew Cunanan — and the trail of violence that led to the designer's doorstep in July 1997. But as the show continues to move backwards in time, it is finally checking in again with the titular character in an episode that imagines both Versace's and Cunanan's struggles with expressing their sexuality in a society still deeply riddled by homophobia. While Cunanan's close friend (and first alleged victim) Jeffrey Trail wrestles with the restrictive and shaming policies of DADT, Versace himself makes the bold decision to stop living in the closet and announce to the world his loving relationship with his partner Antonio d'Amico.
"Naval officer Jeffrey Trail meets Andrew Cunanan for the first time, and Gianni Versace reveals his sexuality to the world," reads the brief plot synopsis of "Don't Ask Don't Tell." The trailer for the rest of the season that aired after the premiere episode (embedded above) teased this development, showing Gianni (Édgar Ramírez) informing his sister Donatella (Penélope Cruz) that he's set up an interview. "To say what?" she grills him. "I'm gay," he shrugs nonchalantly in response. Clearly worried by her brother's cavalier attitude — coming out publicly was a much more seismic event in the '90s than it is today, even for a fashion designer — she responds, "You have forgotten how ugly the world can be." But Gianni defends himself and his decision: "Is the brand of Versace braver than the man?"
The footage then shows Gianni sitting down for an interview with Antonio (Ricky Martin)… just as he apparently did in real life, revealing his relationship and his sexuality to the world in an interview with The Advocate. Unfortunately, that historic interview isn't available on the internet — but for the young gay men who were lucky enough to catch it in print at the time, it was a game-changer.
"I was always very moved by him," openly gay ACS creator Ryan Murphy revealed about his choice of subject for Season 2 during the show's panel at the Television Critics Association press tour last November. "He lived outrageously and daringly, and he was a disrupter," Harper's Bazaar quoted him as saying. "Even when I was younger, I really loved him and looked up to him. And I remember being so proud and excited when he did that interview in The Advocate, because at the time, there wasn't really a lot of people who were brave enough to live their life in the open."
Versace star Ricky Martin — who also came out relatively late in life when, at age 39, he revealed his relationship with Jwan Yosef in an interview with Rolling Stone — also remembers being inspired by the designer's bravery. "I'm a gay man that lived in the closet for many years," he said in an interview with US Weekly in January. "To see the process of Gianni actually coming out and sitting down in front of a journalist to talk about his reality is something that moved me in many ways." But Martin acknowledges that, if coming out publicly was more difficult in the '90s, so was life outside of the closet once the announcement was made. "Even though everybody knew about the relationship with Antonio, the fact that they couldn't be as open as I am right now with my relationship is something that really frustrates me," he said.
Versace continues to be a fascinating examination of homophobia in the '90s — just as The People v. O.J. Simpson was a fascinating examination of racism in the '90s — and how much (and how little) has changed in the decades since then.