During the weeks leading up to the release of FX’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” the late designer’s family members have been vocal about their displeasure.
In early January, they released a statement saying the family hadn’t authorized the series, therefore it should be viewed as a work of fiction. Series creator Ryan Murphy had based the second season of his anthology series on a book by journalist Maureen Orth, “Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U. S. History.”
After the statement, Murphy and the family volleyed back and forth, with him claiming that the series is “a work of nonfiction obviously with docudrama elements” and them hitting back that Orth’s book is “full of gossip and speculation.” Meanwhile, Orth’s publisher, Random House, joined the fray, defending the book as “a carefully reported and extensively-sourced work of investigative journalism by an award-winning journalist with impeccable credentials.”
Whew. That’s quite a hullabaloo. So what exactly is the Versace family so angry about? And – if they took the time to watch the show – would they still be complaining?
Potentially, though they might also find a fond portrayal of the fashion icon.
Of course, it would be difficult for them to watch the Wednesday night premiere, which recreates the murder of Versace (Edgar Ramírez) on the exact steps where Andrew Cunanan (played by Darren Criss) shot the designer. Versace’s former South Beach mansion is now the Villa Casa Casuarina, a boutique hotel that looks almost exactly as it did when Versace lived there. The owners granted Murphy and his team permission to shoot on the premises for a month.
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Recreating a murder in the exact place where it happened might upset the family. So too would the multiple scenes of Versace’s bullet-riddled face and body. Still, that doesn’t make the series a work of “fiction” so much as disturbingly accurate.
During the first episode, investigators also question Versace’s longtime partner Antonio D’Amico (Ricky Martin), who discusses the couple’s dalliances with other men (much to the confusion of the investigator, who seems to mistake D’Amico for a pimp). D’Amico then ominously tells Versace’s sister, Donatella (Penélope Cruz), that investigators will surely find out “everything.”
What exactly is everything? Probably the one thing the Versace family was most loathe to see public, judging by their statement, which read in part: “Orth makes assertions about Gianni Versace’s medical condition based on a person who claims he reviewed a post-mortem test result, but she admits it would have been illegal for the person to have reviewed the report in the first place (if it existed at all).”
That vague assertion refers to the fact that Orth reported that Versace was HIV positive. That doesn’t come up in the first episode of the season, but it is a major plot point in the second, when Versace is shown, in a flashback, as extremely ill and despondent. The author stands by her reporting, despite the family’s complaints.
In an interview with Hollywood Reporter, series writer Tom Rob Smith said the illness was an important and poignant element to include.
“What I found most amazing about it is this is a guy that came so close to death, and still clung on,” he said. “He really fought for life. Life was very important to him. Contrast it with someone [like Andrew Cunanan] who gave up, and someone who was beaten by circumstance.”
Ultimately the series paints Versace as a warm and compassionate man who loved his work. More importantly, he isn’t even the main focus of the series. Despite the title, the show is really more interested in Cunanan, a pathological liar and serial killer whose motives for killing the designer are still opaque. Much of the series follows his crime spree leading up to his final murder.
Would knowing the real subject of the series soften the blow for the family?
Maybe – but it could also be even more unsettling that the man responsible for so much death and destruction is the one in the spotlight.