The new season of the FX anthology series American Crime Story revisits the 1997 murder of the Italian designer. John Powers says the show presents a moving portrait of homophobia in 1990s America.
“It should come as little surprise that The Assassination of Gianni Versace is not as rich or thrilling as The People vs. O.J. Simpson. After all, that was about the most enthralling murder of any of our lifetimes. Yet this new series is still well worth watching. Murphy is at his best when he takes tabloid material and, without draining away its juiciness, reframes it to grapple with serious issues. The O.J. series was steeped in questions of race, class, sex, and celebrity. The first season of another Murphy series Feud wasn’t merely a catfight between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis but a resonant story about how Hollywood uses and abuses women.
And so it is with Versace, which expands from its namesake’s murder to become a moving portrait of gayness and homophobia in ‘90s America. In his killing spree across America, Cunanan encounters closeted businessmen in straight marriages, wives trapped in such circumstances, devoted gay naval officers chased out of the military by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Even as Cunanan leaves a clear trail, the cops and FBI keep botching the investigation because they find gay life so alien and perverse that they wallow in anti-gay stereotypes rather than looking at the evidence.”