“Judy Garland did not receive this honor in her time. I am certain that this moment is an extension of the celebration of her legacy that began on our film set and is also representative of the fact that her legacy of unique exceptionalism and inclusivity and generosity of spirit, it transcends any one artistic achievement. Ms. Garland, you are certainly among the heroes who unite and define us and this is certainly for you. I am so grateful,” stated Renee Zellweger in her acceptance speech at the 92nd Academy Awards on February 9.
Zellweger, a native of Katy, speaking with a Texas twang thanked a host of people but heaped the most lavish praise on the gay icon she portrayed in Judy. The film is based on the play End of the Rainbow and chronicles the last years of Garland’s life, shortly before her death in June of 1969.
She beat out fellow nominees Charlize Theron, Cynthia Erivo, Scarlett Johansson, and Saoirse Ronan.
Oscar buzz began as soon as the first promotional photos for the film were released in 2018. The Best Actress Oscar win was not a surprise as Zellweger was a heavy favorite to take home her second trophy; the first came for 2003’s Cold Mountain for Best Supporting Actress. She had already won pre-Oscar prizes at the BAFTAs, Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Zellweger, a University of Texas graduate, sang Garland’s songs herself, just as she used her own voice in Chicago. She is now the third woman from Texas to win a Best Actress trophy, following Sissy Spacek for Coal Miner’s Daughter in 1980 and Joan Crawford who won in 1945 for her role in Mildred Pierce.
Judy Garland was the biggest gay icon at the time of her death. Many historians write her death at 47 and subsequent funeral may have been the spark that began the modern gay rights movement. (The Stonewall Riots began on the night of Garland’s funeral in New York City.)
In Judy, Stan and Dan are a gay couple who are gigantic fans of Judy Garland, going to see multiple performances during her sold-out run at London’s Talk of the Town. She shares a dinner with the two men at their apartment in one of the movie’s most powerful scenes.
“Aside from being fans of Judy Garland’s talents, the couple represents how much the late singer meant to her LGBTQ+ fans. Judy acknowledged her gay fans when so few would, with Stan and Dan explaining Britain’s former anti-gay laws. And while Judy is largely focused on its subject, the character’s dinner with these fictitious characters presents one of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes. And it’s surprisingly not a scene about the struggles in her life, but that of the queer community in the 1960s,” wrote Corey Chichizola for CinemaBlend.com.
In an interview with Jeryl Brunner, Zellweger was asked, “How did the experience playing Judy Garland change you?”
“I learned a lot about things I didn’t know about Judy’s life at that time. And I came to admire her even more deeply than I did before. I came to understand what she had to overcome again and again in order to continue to perform on the highest levels for such an extended period of time. Coming to know about that, you look at her differently. It’s not tragic, but triumphant,” Zellweger replied.
In the final scene of the film, Zellweger’s Garland struggles while singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” on stage. The audience led by Stan and Dan, offer love and encouragement enough for her to complete her signature song.
Judy asks, “You won’t forget me, will you? Promise you won’t.”