Sharon Stone is facing an escalating consumer boycott from cinema-goers in China, one of Hollywood's most important export markets, after saying the earthquake that has killed at least 70,000 people could be caused by "bad karma."
In an outburst that may prove more provocative than even the infamous leg-crossing scene in Basic Instinct, the 50-year-old actress told reporters that this month's natural disaster, which made millions homeless, may be the result of the Chinese government's policy on Tibet.
Amid growing fury over the comments, which were made on the red carpet at Cannes last week but have since reached a worldwide audience on YouTube, the founder of one of China's biggest cinema chains said yesterday that his company would no longer show her films in its theatres.
Ng See-Yuen, founder of the cinema chain UWE and chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers, described Stone's remarks as "inappropriate" and said actors should not bring personal politics to bear on a humanitarian crisis.
The Chinese PR company for Christian Dior, with whom Ms Stone has a lucrative modelling contract, has distanced itself from her comments, while yesterday's Beijing Times reported that department stores have removed advertising bearing her image.
At the heart of the row is an interview Stone gave to a TV reporter. "I am not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans," she said, when asked about her Buddhist faith. "Then I have been concerned about 'how shall we deal with the Olympics?' because they are not being nice to the Dalai Lama, who is a good friend of mine. And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened and I thought, 'Is that karma, when you're not nice that the bad things happen to you?'"
Although representatives for Stone, 50, were not returning calls yesterday, supporters pointed out that later in the interview, the actress conceded that her hardline attitude had softened after she received a letter from The Tibetan Foundation asking her to go and help quake victims.
Stone's remarks have provoked widespread outrage on the internet, with Chinese citizens posting web responses to Stone. Although actors making colourful remarks on the red carpet is nothing new in Hollywood, industry experts say Stone's comments may prove to be particularly ill-judged, given that she currently has at least four films in production. "To speak plain English, you don't want to piss off several billion people," said Steven Gaydos, executive editor of the Hollywood newspaper Variety.
Back in China, meanwhile, the challenges keep on coming for the thousands of soldiers and other relief workers trying to help the five million people displaced by the 7.9-magnitude quake.
So acute is the problem that China has even asked the Japanese army for help, the first time Japanese soldiers have been deployed in China since the Second World War.
Yesterday, relief workers evacuated 150,000 people living near the perilous Tangjiashan "quake lake" because of fears the reservoir could burst its banks.
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