The Assassination of Gianni Versace: A Tale of an American Tragedy

Delve into the Fascinating World of Fashion and Murder

by Angelina Zervos

Opinions Editor

FX released its second season of the American Crime Story anthology, The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Before I continue, if you have not watched the series, please do so; critics have agreed that its cinematography, writing, and performances are truly outstanding, which have allowed the series to gain such attention and even land wins at the Emmy and Golden Globe award ceremonies. Back to the analysis:

While the series bares Versace’s name, its storyline focuses on the life of Andrew Cunanan, a handsome, cunning, young man who would later become known world-wide as Gianni Versace’s killer. This can be seen as problematic, especially after the Versace family deemed the show a “work of fiction” that did not portray the truth regarding Gianni Versace’s relationships and livelihood. However, perhaps Ryan Murphy, the show’s director, wanted the title to be reminiscent of the media’s handling of the Cunanan serial murders, which did not gain national attention until Versace’s death, despite Cunanan’s place on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted list. The emphasis on Versace, although the show does explore his struggles with HIV, cancer, and homophobia, mirrors how his death allowed light to be shone on Cunanan’s previous victims just as the Versace name drew in viewers to learn more about one of the largest failed manhunts in American history (life imitates art?).

The season tackles a wide range of issues, some better than others. Similar to how The People v. O.J. Simpson, American Crime Story’s first season, undertook matters concerning race within the U.S., the Assassination of Gianni Versace does the same with the gay community. While this is its main narrative, it also touches upon poverty and the self-made identity perpetuated by the American Dream. The show also explores the U.S. military’s treatment of homosexuality under President Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy with the story of Cunanan’s first victim Jeff Trails, a former navy officer. All of this done while sequencing the life of Andrew Cunanan and his relation to his victims.

The show relates the story backwards, beginning with Versace’s assassination, which would be Cunanan’s final murder. The opening scene is one of, if not the most, dramatic, artistically pleasing scene of the entire season. Viewers are introduced to Gianni Versace, played by the uncanny Édgar Ramírez, as he awakes in his mansion, dressing in designer robes and standing on his balcony looking over Miami’s shoreline. Nearby, a dirty, frantic Andrew Cunanan, played by Darren Criss, plots Versace’s death. It is a visible parallel between wealth and poverty, excess and destitution, sanity and madness, which are prevalent themes throughout the entirety of the show.

Andrew Cunanan was a gifted boy seen as a child prodigy and treated as such by his father; he was a child so assured of his greatness that he formed an obsession with the finer things of life: art, fashion, architecture, etc. Yet as a closeted gay man who was scorned by his neglected siblings, misunderstood by his mentally ill mother, and later abandoned by his con-artist father, success and riches were far from sight. Cunanan turned to drug dealing and prostitution until he was able to find a “partner” who allowed him to live in his California mansion with an allowance in exchange for his company.

Cunanan was living a fantasy; friends and witnesses recall his tendency to fabricate elaborate lies surrounding his lifestyle, including his relationship with fashion designer Gianni Versace. The series benefits by telling Cunanan’s story in reverse, as each episode reveals the birth of each lie embedded into his biography; however, this is also where concern about the show’s truthfulness arose. The Versace family deny any association between Gianni and Cunanan, as does the family of Lee Miglan, successful Chicago real estate developer who was murdered by and alleged had a sexual relationship with Cunanan. Additionally, the circumstances surrounding Cunanan’s second murder of former lover David Madson are widely unknown, although Madson’s family believe he was taken hostage by Cunanan and later killed.

I too found myself tangled within the fantasy world of Cunanan, and was left questioning: why did Cunanan kill Versace? With the aesthetically pleasing cinematography, dramatic soundtrack, and enthralling performances, it was hard to not get caught up in the melodramatic portrayal of Cunanan’s life. While the facts surrounding Cunanan’s actual life experiences, relationships, and the circumstances surrounding his murders may have been muddled, the underlying message of the series is that of an extreme parallel: Versace was everything Cunanan wanted to be, Versace was everything Cunanan was not. The show attempts to the frame an array of narratives from the gay community, which was so neglected by police and the mainstream media that murderers like Cunanan were able to remain fugitive for so long. While it may have bent or imagined the truth in order for dramatic purposes, it shed light on forgotten stories that deserve to be told.

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