Sharon Stone Recalls A Rougher Hollywood; Motion Picture Academy President Janet Yang Cheers Michelle Yeoh’s Oscar: NY Women In Film Awards

“We should think a lot more about what women can do,” Sharon Stone told a packed ballroom Tuesday in NYC, speaking passionately about her early career; women in film; and Basic Instinct, the 1992 project that was ground breaking and traumatizing for the actor.

Stone was a small-town girl who arrived in New York an aspiring actress “with my suitcase and 50 dollars,” she told the 43rd annual Muse Awards put on by New York Women in Film & Television. “I walked up and down the streets and I checked every pay phone for change that was left in so that I could possibly take the subway instead of walking all the way back to Elizabeth and Houston, where I lived in a fifth-floor walkup above a bakery in a studio apartment with my friend and … lots and lots of cockroaches.”

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“It was very exciting and really hard,” not least because, back then, “there were four members of Women in Film. Four — that’s not a joke.”

It was stressful. “When I would go to the set there would be 300 men, and my hair and makeup and dressers were men, when I was doing sex scenes. It was all men and me. And sometimes I could ask the wardrobe supervisor, who may be woman, if she wouldn’t mind staying on set while I did that. When they didn’t even clear the set for me to do that, and I could hear some actor screaming: ‘Can you get out of the way? I can’t even see her tits across the room.’”

“Well, things have changed, and there are women in film now, and I am really grateful,” she said.

Stone, who won a Best Actress Golden Globe for Casino, is also a producer, author and humanitarian, vocal on issues from working conditions to equal pay. She said that before Basic Instinct, women in films usually crossed their legs at the ankle only and couldn’t raise their arms. “No armpits.” She recalled today that people laughed when she was nominated for a Golden Globe for the film, where she plays a serial killer who famously flashes a group of police interviewers in one scene. Much worse, she recently said during a podcast appearance that the film lost her custody of her young son.

“Now when they call my name and say I made Basic Instinct, there are cheers in the room,” she said.

The actor seems never far from the zeitgeist, recently making an unusual appearance on SNL with musical guest Sam Smith, and revealing that lost half of her money when SVB Bank collapsed. (Federal regulators have backstopped all deposits.)

Janet Yang, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, also honored for vision and achievement, teared up recalling her mother, who was born in 1917 in Hunan, China, and passed away last year at age 104. “What she experienced in the one century of her life is rather mind boggling and I think gives me tremendous confidence in the possibility, and the power, of change,” she said. Among an early generation of Chinese women allowed to go to school, she eventually made her way to the U.S. as a grad student followed by a long career at the United Nations. “Once she had permission, she just gave herself the freedom to be fully herself.”

Yang, who executive produced 1993’s groundbreaking The Joy Luck Club based on the novel by Amy Tan, said she “had zero role models growing up for doing what I do” in the entertainment industry. But “complex women have now been populating screens in great number in recent years,” including Everything Everywhere All at Once.

“We finally have a real Asian woman, unapologetically playing an Asian woman, receiving an Oscar,” she said of Michelle Yeoh.

Other NYWIFT honorees included actors Frieda Pinto, Danielle Brooks and Lauren Ridloff; Arianna Bocco, president of IFC Films; writer-director Deborah Chow; journalist Maria Hinojosa; and activist/philanthropist Sandra Lee.

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