• Golden Globe Awards

Sandra Bullock, 1995 & 1996: On Diversity, Racism and Friendship

In 1995 Sandra Bullock was interviewed by the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press about While You Were Sleeping, a romantic comedy directed by Jon Turtletaub, in which she plays a Chicago Transit token collector who saved a man’s life. That performance earned her the first of five Golden Globe nominations as Best Actress.
The HFPA interviewed her again in 1996 for A Time to Kill directed by Joel Schumacher, adapted from the 1989 novel by John Grisham, about the trial of a Black man (Samuel L. Jackson) accused of revenge killing the two white men who had kidnapped, beaten and raped his child. Bullock played a law student assisting his lawyer (Matthew McConaughey). The actress-producer spoke about her diverse upbringing, her stance against racism and the death penalty.
In 1995 Bullock said that she frequently travelled to Germany, the country where her mother Helga was born, and she learned to appreciate different cultures:
“I was born in Washington, D.C., which is right outside of Virginia, and we traveled back and forth between the United States and Germany. Now I realize that the advantages are incredible, but as a kid I hated it, because I just wanted to stay in one place at any one time. So, because of how my parents raised me and the diverse mixture of nationalities on both my family’s parts, with us traveling all over the place, I don’t ever feel afraid to go to different places, to immerse myself in different cultures. That makes me totally unafraid to travel to foreign countries, because you gain so much from it. So why not go out and explore? It’s scary, when you can’t read the signs in a country and you don’t know how to talk to people, but it’s amazing how you always find people willing to help.” 
As an actress working on movie sets, her itinerant upbringing helped her get along with people:
“I’ve learned not to limit myself to certain types of people, certain ages or races, and this has been very useful to me in this business, where you’re always thrust into another group of people where you have to get to know everybody and get along. A film crew of about 250 people need to get along in order to create somebody’s vision; and it makes it so much easier for me, having been raised the way that I have, that I don’t even think twice about it.” 
In her personal life as well, she has a diverse group of friends:
“I have an incredible group of friends, that I’ve known for years and years; they are diverse and eclectic, of many races and nationalities. You have Black, you have white, you have green, you have people who can’t even speak English; but they are great people who have been in my life for so long, and I never would have met them had I not been all over the world exploring, and open-minded enough to let people like that in. So, being raised by my parents the way that I did, to share with other people, is the greatest gift that I’ve gotten.”
Bullock felt as strongly as her character did in A Time to Kill about racism being unacceptable:
“I was blessed in being raised in a family where that attitude is not acceptable. We have a very open-minded, strong, beautiful, multi-racial family; there are so many races in my family, that I feel like I’m the melting pot of the world. So, it makes me angry when I go into places, such as the one represented in the book, and you see that mentality. But I blame the parent that instills those values into the children. If you teach your children right, plant the seeds, they will then go and grow the tree somewhere, and it’s based on what seeds you give them, whether they’re going to grow a beautiful open tree or one that’s mangled and biased.
She was familiar with racism, because her father, John Wilson Bullock, was born in Birmingham, Alabama:
“I was not surprised, because my dad’s from the South. The only surprise that the South held for me, the wonderful thing about it, was that they have a tradition and a culture which has gone unchanged; and I love people who adhere to tradition and family on a regular, ritualistic basis. But some parts of the South – like some parts of the North, of the East and West – are still behind the times in terms of dealing with racism, with politics, with religion, with homosexuality, with women’s rights, with children’s rights. It’s amazing how far removed some people can be, and it’s frustrating, but sometimes, instead of going there preaching, you have to express your difference quietly, but it is hard to be quiet about it, especially for someone like me who’s incredibly big-mouthed and outspoken.” 
Bullock talked about the main issue of A Time to Kill, as to whether this father should get the death penalty for killing his daughter’s violent abusers:
“I don’t believe in killing people in order to justify the fact that they killed somebody else.  There are better ways of handling it, but unfortunately the penal system can only survive if it has money and we don’t have the money to rehabilitate people, to research why people are criminals. I don’t have a solution, but I don’t believe that the death penalty is the answer. There are some sick people that you cannot help, I don’t know what you do when somebody is mentally deficient and does something like that. But I do believe in protecting your child. I don’t have a child, but I have a sister, and if anybody hurt my sister, I would go after them with a vengeance. I don’t know how far I could be pushed, because I’ve never been clinically insane and I never quite snapped that much, but I would protect her with everything that I had.  You have to protect your children, it’s your job as a parent.”