At the ninety-second Academy Awards last night, Renée Zellweger won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Judy Garland in the biopic Judy. The win wasn’t surprising (neither were the rest of the acting wins, really—and besides, nothing compared with the thrill of seeing Parasite’s four-Oscar sweep). Renée Zellweger did a fine job, and her portrait of Judy Garland felt real—though it wasn’t anywhere near as entertaining as Judy Garland herself. But no one has asked me to join the academy yet, so what do I know?
Anyway, I’m here today to celebrate a different Renée Zellweger performance—her acceptance speech. It was a long monologue, four minutes’ worth of names, pauses, and “ums.” Renée checked off all the boxes a gracious recipient is supposed to. She thanked the academy, then celebrated the losing actresses in her category, Scarlett Johansson, Charlize Theron, Saoirse Ronan, and Cynthia Erivo. (“I have to say, boy, it is an honor to be considered in your company,” Zellweger said.) She thanked her family, and what felt like everyone she knows in Hollywood. She made statements about the American Dream and the power of entertainers to inspire and unite us, even in these most divisive of times. She name-checked Bob Dylan and Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, among other “heroes” that bring us together, and dedicated her new Oscar to the woman she played, Judy Garland, saying Garland has a legacy of “unique exceptionalism, and inclusivity and generosity of spirit” that “transcends any one artistic achievement.”
But it seems the internet’s main takeaway was, once again, surprise—and even skepticism—that Renée Zellweger has a Texas accent. This happened last month, too, when she won Best Actress at the Golden Globes, and snuck a “y’all” into the first fifteen seconds of her acceptance speech. “I was today years old when I found out Renée Zellweger had a thick country accent,” wrote one tweet. “Renée Zellweger’s accent at Golden Globes 2020 confuses fans” said one headline.
Last night’s speech inspired a similar reaction. “Is Renée Zellweger putting on that accent because I swear that’s not what she actually sounds like??” wrote one Twitter user. “In my mind Renee Zellweger is Australian. Every time she speaks in her soft spoken lil southern accent I am shocked. My whole life she has been Australian, to me, and I cant rectify the truth with the lie I’ve led myself to believe,” wrote another. It seems that a segment of the world’s population thought that the woman who played Bridget Jones was British.
Meanwhile, others knew she was American but either didn’t know she was from Texas, or didn’t remember her having this thick a drawl the last time she was a staple of the awards circuit, in the mid-aughts. Her Texas twang was definitely tamped down back then. And while her acceptance speech for her last Oscar (Best Supporting Actress, for playing Ruby in Cold Mountain) definitely had some folksiness to it (there is a hint of a drawl when she says the word “you”), it lacked the overtly Southern lilt we’ve borne witness to this time around (she did not, for example, say “y’all”).
To some, that shift served as proof that her accent is disingenuous, as was the fact that she sort of kept going in and out of it. “Someone give Renée Zellweger another Oscar for this stunning Southern accent she’s doing,” quipped writer Julia Young, to which one of her followers brilliantly replied: “No she’s from Texas so this is the factory default settings.”
I am a native Texan who doesn’t really speak with an accent (I grew up in Austin, though I spent a lot of my childhood surrounded by thick drawls in Brady, Texas, where my mother, with her light twang, hailed from). But I can do a Texas accent, and I have one buried somewhere deep within my soul. If I watch enough consecutive episodes of Friday Night Lights, I’ll probably start droppin’ the g’s of my gerunds like Tami Taylor. If I’m buyin’ groceries at a small-town Brookshire Brothers, you can bet your behind I’m dragging out the long a when I tell that cashier “thanks, ma’am.”
So whether or not Renée’s accent is something that has always been there, or is something she’s amplified at this stage of her career—who cares? What does she have to prove? She’s incredibly accomplished, with two Oscars and almost fifty other acting awards under her belt. She’s put up with a lot of hooey from the media and the internet alike about what her face is and isn’t supposed to look like. She talks however she damn well pleases, and she should. If she wants to express humility and gratitude for how people have celebrated her Judy performance, and the expression of those sentiments is closely tied to the word “y’all,” then so be it. Now all y’all please leave Ms. Zellweger alone.