Sep 2, 2020

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: Sleaze, Sin, and Closeted Gay Men

I have watched three episodes of The Assassination of Gianni Versace on Netflix, and I'm not sure how I feel about it.  When the story first broke in July 1997 -- famous fashion designer murdered by male prostitute -- the straight media jumped on it with homophobic glee: "All gay people are violent monsters!  We thought so all along, and this proves it!"  It was just before I moved to New York to start graduate school.  For the next six months, whenever I came out to a straight person, they got all quiet and standoffish and asked if physicians had yet come up with a cure.

So when Bob turned it on Netflix, I almost left the room.  But I stuck around, mostly due to laziness and a desire to see more of Versace's stupendous Villa in Miami Beach.

I hadn't realized that Versace (Edgar Ramirez) was gay, and had a long-term partner, Antonio (Ricky Martin), as well as a sister (Penelope Cruz) who disapproved -- of the match, and of his gayness. "What can you give him?" she yells at Antonio.  "Marriage?  Children?  A family?  Nothing!"

I had realized that the police, and soon the FBI, were extremely homophobic.  They refuse to put up fliers.  They call the victims "homosexuals."  They treat Antonio with utter contempt, refusing to distinguish between a permanent partner and a paid rent boy -- both have sex with men, and are therefore reprehensible.  .

The story is not told in chronological order, so after three episodes we don't know why Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) killed Versace.  I guess no one knows in real life -- the family insistes that Versace never met the man.

We know that Andrew is a glib sociopath who spins intricate, barely believable stories ("my father was Emelda Marcos' personal pilot in the Philippines, and he also exports pineapples"), and changes personalities with the ease of a chameleon adapting to a new environment.  We know that by the time he gets around to Versace, he's already killed four people (only the last two depicted in the episodes I watched):

1. His best friend Jeff (Finn Wittrock, left)

2. His lover David (Cody Fern).

3. Lee Miglin (Mike Farrell), a famous architect who has hired him (frequently?) as a rentboy in the past.  Lee is gay but closeted; everything he has accomplished in life  is the result of lying about his sexual identity, playing the "perfect heterosexual husband and father."  Maybe that's why Andrew kills him?  Because open gay men are barred from the American Dream, unable to become rich, powerful, successful, unless they design women's dresses.

At least that's the tv version seems to imply.  In real life, Lee Miglin's wife and children insisted that he was straight, and had never met Andrew Cunanan.

4. William Reese (Gregg Lawrence), a cemetery caretaker.  Andrew originally planned to just lock him up and steal his truck until Reese mentioned having a wife and daughter.  Someone else enjoying heterosexual privilege!  Gay men were barred from marriage and adoption, usually denied custody of even their own biological children, but not the scruffiest-looking heterosexual!  Maybe that's why Andrew killed him?

At least that's what the tv version seems to imply.  In real life, we don't know what conversation the two had, since both participants are dead.

Beefcake:  A lot of shots of the beach, a lot of shots in gay bars with gyrating cage boys.

Other Sights:  Miami Beach, Versace's palatial villa.  Why do two guys and a couple of servants need all that space?

And I am interested in reading the gigantic book on Versace that Andrew carries around with him.

Gay Characters:  Most, but most closeted.

Torture:  Lots.  Andrew tortures a beach pickup and Lee Miglin, and I assume others.  Gross.

My Verdict:  There are lots of gay people in the cast and crew, and it won a GLAAD award.  But I'm still uncomfortable.


  1. I saw the first episode and thought it was spectacular but a bit dark. I really didn't understand how they were going to stretch the story and they did by having Cunanan kill more gay men. The entire sorry story could have been told in two hours.

  2. Was the murderer really gay? Or did the media assume that? ("A real man won't take a dick to the mouth or butt, not even for money, so straight hustlers don't exist"...) I remember there was a TV-documentary made about the case, but I did not watch it - not interested and turned off by the media frenzy. But it is probably a much better alternative than this 'we need more stuff to fill up our channel / online store, no matter what'-garbage. There is a device to clean eyes after contact with dangerous chemicals. Perhaps it is useful to reviewers, too?

  3. Cunanan had a series of male lovers and no female ones, so yes, he was probably gay, or bi with a primary interest in men. The tv series makes rage over gay oppression the motive for his murders, whch strikes me as too political. He killed a friend, an ex-lover, an ex-prostitution client, a guy with a truck he wanted, and a hookup who happened to be famous

  4. I have issue with the phrase "assassination". Most likely it was some lovers' quarrel. I don't think Versace was particularly political.

  5. My impression of the story line was that he was desperate for fame and was tired of being used by these rich gay men.


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