The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story creator Ryan Murphy said from the start that this iteration of the anthology series was about the impact of societal homophobia. That's summed up, quite ironically, in one heartbreaking scene in the finale in which neither Gianni Versace or his killer Andrew Cunanan appear. It's the moment that Gianni Versace's (Edgar Ramirez) domestic partner Antonio D'Amico (Ricky Martin) tells Gianni's sister Donatalla (Penelope Cruz) that he intends to stay at one of Gianni's houses as he recovers from his partner's murder. "The houses belong to the company," she told him, barely concealing the disdain the real Donatella has acknowledged in press.
They'd been together for decades but that didn't matter to his partner's Catholic family. He didn't even get acknowledged in the funeral service, but was sent packing in his time of mourning, which is just one of the f***d-up type of situations marriage equality activists fought to remedy with same-sex marriage. Until the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage in 2015, countless LGBT/queer people knew this same kind of sting: being barred from the hospital rooms of sick partners; legally barred from going into the homes of deceased partners by family; forbidden visitation of children they helped raise after separation.
In its finale, Versace sewed up its grand message about homophobia — not just the injustice of it, but the costs. Though Versace has all the Ryan Murphy hallmarks — glamour, media, sex, celebrity and a central societal theme, this iteration of American Crime Story had a main message that's not as overt or accessible as The People v OJ Simpson's statements on race, class, celebrity and male privilege. Instead, Versace whispered its point throughout its intoxicating making-of-a murderer story. Anti-gay bias has been woven into the fabric of America's institutions, and it showed: discrimination does more than just hurt feelings, and the harm it inflicts isn't limited to just the gay community. Versace revealed the prejudice, ignorance and fear — particularly in government agencies that are supposed to help citizens — that created the circumstances that allowed Andrew to kill five people.
"It's my most personal work," Murphy told TV Guide in January. He affirmed that the story was indeed his form of activism. "I was very adamant about doing this because I came of age during this period. I understood the era: the violence of it, the threat of it. When I started, some of the executives were incredibly homophobic and said jaw-dropping things to me. I think people still marginalize gay creators and gay people. I still feel it."
Questions, more so than answers, help conceive how fully the poisonous prejudice seeped into society. How much time and money and potential did Americans waste on recruiting, feeding, clothing, and training people like Jeff Trail (Finn Wittrock), who'd leave the Navy because of his sexual orientation? What did American institutions lose by shaming them into hiding or leaving the armed forces, rather than protecting them? Would Marilyn Miglin's (Judith Light) husband and children still have their patriarch Lee Miglin if detectives hadn't let silly cliches — like the "love triangle" theory floated when Andrew and David went missing — inform their work? Might the FBI have caught Andrew sooner if agents had engaged the gay community as Detective Lori Wieder (Dascha Polanco) urged from the beginning rather than ignoring the deaths of, as Ronnie (Max Greenfield) put it, "a bunch of nobody gays?" How many lives are put in jeopardy, or worse, when someone like the drifter who bludgeoned Lincoln Aston gets off by invoking the gay panic defense? What greatness could Andrew's talents have produced had he not been filled with shame and self-loathing all his life and told he was inherently sick for being gay? What's really changed in the 20 years since?
A lot, but Versace hints that the pop culture achievements of our newly gay-friendly zeitgeist — the Drag Races and the Love, Simons and Ryan Murphy himself — are tenuous, thin advancements inside a system that's still biased. After all, Gianni Versace was beloved by the media, the wealthy coastal elites who bought his clothes and the A-list celebrities who came to his shows, but his coming out still put the entire business at risk. His partner only got a portion of what he was due because he'd have had zero power in court. Versace is a paean to one of the greatest artists the world ever knew, but it also tallies the destruction of prejudice that has yet to be fully rooted out. That's why Murphy, who will also debut Pose and Boys in the Band on Broadway this year, fought to tell this story and others like it, and it's why he's committed to hiring more directors who are female, people of color, queer, or intersections of the above. "All these projects are about asking one question," he said. "Have we really come far enough? I think the answer is no."
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story concluded Wednesday, March 21 on FX. Episodes are available on FX and Amazon.