Filipinos Cesar Sayoc And Andrew Cunanan—The Intersectional Possibilities Are Fascinating
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None of the packages mailed by Cesar Sayoc, the male stripper steroid addict Trump supporter who lived in his van down by the river, have yet gone off. But even if none ever do or ever would have, it’s still a very bad thing to terrify mailroom minions with something that looks like a bomb, even if it is unlikely to explode due to your intent or ineptitude. Similarly, disassembling a clock and putting it in a case to take to school where it, unsurprisingly, sets off a bomb scare is unlikely to get you invited to the White House and celebrated as a wunderkind, at least not under the current Administration.

Anyway, Cesar Sayoc got me thinking about another half Filipino-half Italian in Florida’s often head-scratching history, Andrew Cunanan, a gay rent boy and drug dealer who went on a 1997 murder spree travelling cross country to kill five men, culminating with his shooting of famous gay fashion designer Gianni Versace.

Sure, enough, there was a new TV program about Cunanan this year, and sure enough, there was an article by Slate staffer Inkoo Kang, who is like Sarah Jeong but permanently stuck at that time of the month, complaining that while, sure, all the brutal homophobia suffered by Cunanan and Versace at the hands of society was adequately portrayed in the TV series, but where is all the white racism against half-Filipinos that the murderer no doubt endured?

The Deracination of Andrew Cunanan

Why is The Assassination of Gianni Versace interested in its protagonist’s sexuality but not his race?
By INKOO KANG, JAN 19, 2018 9:00 AM

You finally need two hands to count all the current TV shows with Asian American protagonists.

… So it’s a bit strange, and off-putting, that the latest series with an Asian lead—one of the most anticipated shows of the year, it so happens—isn’t being described as such. In fact, its network—once a standard-bearer for prestige TV’s lack of diversity—is highlighting the drama’s focus on queerness and homophobia—and by doing so largely erasing its main character’s racial identity, especially in the first half of his story.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story isn’t about the titular victim but his killer: Andrew Cunanan, a San Diego native born to a Filipino father and an Italian American mother. … But Smith’s description could also be turned on The Assassination of Gianni Versace, which is a white writer’s dramatization of another white writer’s interpretation. …

The show’s Andrew, played by Darren Criss, does mention his father’s plantation in the Philippines early on. But between his pathological lying and that country’s colonial past, his race isn’t confirmed till about midway through the nine-hour season. A few character details here and there suggest Andrew’s racial self-hatred and the prevalence of anti-Asian racism within the gay community, but the relative sparseness of these implications is all the more noteworthy in contrast with the richly developed portrait of the decade’s homophobia.

In casting Glee’s Criss (who played Blaine Anderson), Ryan Murphy hired a half-Filipino (if white-passing) actor to play the half-Filipino role of Andrew Cunanan. …

If The Assassination of Gianni Versace feels urgent as it revisits the stifling homophobia of the ’90s, it’s far less successful in reimagining Cunanan from a racialized point of view, at least in the first eight episodes. … It’s certainly not as if those racial and ethnic depictions of Cunanan don’t exist. In his analysis of the divergent foci of the mainstream American and Filipino American media narratives about Cunanan, scholar Allan Punzalan Isaac notes that the former wagged its tongue about his “deviant” sexuality (Tom Brokaw infamously referred to the killer as a “homicidal homosexual”),

Is Tom Brokaw dead yet? If not, how long must we be forced to wait until we can dig up Brokaw’s remains and scatter his bones for the infamous crime of referring to Andrew Cunanan as a “homicidal homosexual”?

… The pleasure, perhaps, is easier to grasp when you’re part of a group whose presence and history are constantly made invisible by the larger American culture. “Perhaps [the Filipino American fascination with Cunanan] stemmed from a longing to be reflected in the small screen in this American media sensation,” Isaac wrote several years after Cunanan’s death. Filipinos preferred participation, he conjectures, in “any American drama, even for the wrong reasons.”

Nearly all of the eight Filipino American scholars, activists, and advocates I talked to for this story say that Cunanan has fallen out of popular Filipino American lore, just as he’s been forgotten by American pop culture until now. Professor Christine Bacareza Balance told me in an email interview that when she polled 40 or so students in a recent Filipino American Studies course, only one or two knew who Cunanan was. But among gay Filipino Americans, he remains something of a cult figure and for a few Filipino American writers, a literary muse.

On the bright side, Cesar Sayoc, you have an undying future to look forward to in Pinoy-American Grievance Studies programs.

Isaac begins his seminal book about Filipino American identity, American Tropics, with a meditation on Cunanan’s incarnation of many of the concepts central to his subject: the possibility of “assimilation gone wrong,” the fear of rejection and the eagerness to belong, the embodiment of Filipino/American “mestizo” beauty standards, the corresponding ethnic ambiguity. …

It’s important to remember that Cunanan murdered five people, apparently in cold blood. His victims deserve to be mourned. But in the absence of other well-known personages (or the inconspicuousness of many successful celebrities’—e.g., Bruno Mars’— Filipino-ness,), it’s perhaps inevitable that some Filipino Americans see or project certain facets of themselves in one of the very few Filipino Americans to appear on TV and on page 1, especially during that era. Ben de Guzman, a policy advocate in D.C., saw Cunanan on the news and thought, There but for the grace of God go I. “As a young, gay Filipino American man who was around his age when he was in the news,” de Guzman recalls via email, “I was forced to look at how the same forces of homophobia and racism that informed my life must have affected him too.”

The former party boy and escort remains a symbol of queer defiance for some in the gay Filipino American community. “Here was a gay Filipino man who seemed unapologetic and daring in his acceptance of his sexuality,” says Ocampo. “In this, he seemed to exude a self-possession that many people struggle with.” Balance says that the image of Cunanan as a “queer Asian/Filipino American on the warpath” “truly goes against many dominant representations within ‘mainstream’ U.S. media.” …

… But created from Filipino American perspectives, they explore the aspects of Cunanan’s life that white America still isn’t fully grappling with.

So, Sayoc, burnish your intersectional credentials now! Don’t claim you were an exclusively heterosexual male stripper. Drop some hints that if, in your younger years the money on offer was a little too good, you’d explore other aspects of your identity. This is your chance to live forever as a Grievance Studies icon and have Slate run essays in two decades about how we need to have a conversation about how Hollywood hasn’t adequately illustrated your intersectionalness.

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