When you first come across the second season of American Crime Story, what might immediately strike you is how this is just another series made out of the life of the rich and the powerful. Now, in a way, you might be correct, but this series is not about Gianni Versace, the founder of the Versace luxury fashion line. I mean, at least not entirely. It is mostly about Andrew Cunanan, his assassin who was a serial killer, but wanted to be known as anything but that.
Andrew Cunanan, as shown in American Crime Story, was a young Asian-American, who only wanted to be seen as ‘special’. However, after his father runs away leaving them penniless and alone, unprepared for the ways of the world, he snaps and goes out on a killing spree. Throughout American Crime Story, there is a constant attempt to compare the lives of these two people – Cunanan and Versace, and the only major difference that I thought really stood out, was the difference in privilege and upbringing.
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Andrew ends up killing five white men: including Gianni Versace and an old, wealthy real estate developer Lee Miglin. The only thing all his victims had in common, other than being gay, is that they had either rejected him in some way or were successful and happy in their own way.
However, I’m not writing this article to talk about Andrew Cunanan or Gianni Versace. I’m writing this, two years after American Crime Story‘s premiere, because of another theme that kept leaping out from the screen: Being here and queer. This is why the series is a relevant watch even today.
It has never been a good time to be anything but straight. Just like it has never been a good time to be a woman or to belong to any other marginalised communities. However, a few small things have changed and by change I don’t mean removed I mean reduced. One thing repeatedly shown in American Crime Story is the unfathomable overreaction (read: homophobia) that people have, just by finding out that the person next to them is ‘not straight’.
In one scene in American Crime Story, they showed how a young straight man brutally murdered an old gay man because, he claimed the latter was ‘trying to touch him’. The police did not even bother to investigate, they just believed him and called his actions – ‘acting in self-defence’. I can only wish it was this easy for women as well in this world, but all of us know that story.
Similarly, up until Cunanan killed Versace, a known, powerful figure around the world, the police (again) did not bother to investigate the serial murders because gay men were being killed so, good riddance, right?
Such reactions are not uncommon today. To believe that they are, is rather naïve. Violence against the queer community just play themselves out in more subtle ways, and go unnoticed only if you’re privileged. Queer children being disowned by their parents and left to fend for themselves is not something uncommon or unheard of today. If you’re lucky and you don’t have to face that, you will definitely notice how the other person, maybe someone you considered a friend, become uncomfortable, fumbling to find the right words so as to not give away their homophobia. This results in comments like “…but I’m not interested in you” and “I’m fine with this as long as it’s not anyone in my house” which honestly, is a very poor attempt to hide your bigotry.
Something else which I thought stood out in American Crime Story was the portrayal of the fact that when a loved celebrity or a person in the position of privilege, decides to come out, they are almost always met with love and support. However, the coming-out of an average person is either refused or met with hostility most of the time. This was shown beautifully in one of the episodes where Cunanan’s first victim Jeffrey Trial, a Naval Officer and his final victim Gianni Versace, a famous fashion designer, both prepare to take an interview to come out as gay. However, both end up with very different results. While the interview had almost no effect on Versace’s life, rather allowed him to express himself more freely and openly than before, Jeffrey Trial had to quit the job he loved so much, mostly fearing his life along with the knowledge that now, everything changes in his job and obviously not in his favour.
We need to understand that the government making favourable laws is only step 1 in the entire process of change. As cliché as this may sound, absolutely nothing is going to change if we don’t check our own selves. The government can go ahead and outlaw discrimination and firing someone because of their caste, sex or gender, but really, how are you going to be happy and in peace in a job where everybody is either hostile to you or avoiding you over something you can’t even change (and you shouldn’t have to either)?
People still laugh at effeminate and gay men and go on to call themselves ‘open-minded’ and allies. Now, this is not to say that the privileged do not face any prejudice at all, but they do have fewer things to lose.
American Crime Story shows and very boldly too, what it is like to live as a gay person in this world, whether you are rich, poor, middle class, struggling or gifted. How the heteronormativity of the society, the people around us: straight men thinking that gay men will treat them the way they treat women and other minorities, straight women thinking that gay women are arrogant or through the male gaze – as fetishes – pushes the community to the brink of their sanity.
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We live in a world where this does not sound like something that used to happen or something that happens only in web series and movies. We live in a world where we know that this still does happen and is probably happening right now. We see how homophobia forced a naval officer to leave the job he loved and is forced to become a worker at a corporate earning just enough money, how a businessman has his head bashed in and how a sailor had his ribs broken only for being gay, not even openly. We see how the life of Versace’s partner, Antonio, stops being of any significance after his death, how everyone tries their very best to remove all hints of Gianni Versace being gay after his funeral and how being gay itself is such a big, often scandalising, news. Them being not heterosexual almost becomes their defining factor, but with a negative connotation and once they’re gone, their loved ones are left to deal with all the whispers and scandals that were reserved solely for them.
Debangana is a 20 year old B.Tech Biotech student who is also interested in gender-studies and politics. She can often be found lost in thought with a cup of tea or with her best friend Anxiety. She can be found on Instagram and here.
Featured image source: The Filtered Lens