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Oscar Party mirrors Sunday's extravaganza

Published on Monday, February 27, 2012

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Amie Owens, president of the Junior League of Greenville, poses before the Oscar Party got underway Sunday night. The JLG was one of 49 organizations sanctioned by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Bart Bishop

Amie Owens, president of the Junior League of Greenville, poses before the Oscar Party got underway Sunday night. The JLG was one of 49 organizations sanctioned by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.



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The red carpet was a feature of the Oscar Party that guests enjoyed. The party was identical to the time frame Sunday night that was televised nationally. 

Bart Bishop

The red carpet was a feature of the Oscar Party that guests enjoyed. The party was identical to the time frame Sunday night that was televised nationally. 

By BART BISHOP

The Academy Awards, the most celebrated meeting of Hollywood talent, had its 84th show Sunday night. This year saw Billy Crystal host, his ninth time doing so, and he was certainly old reliable. Although the show ran long and typifies extravagance, the novelty of the spectacle cannot be denied. 

Seeing all our favorite actors and filmmakers together is a thrill, and it's fun to get involved in the competition. Going in this year, I had only seen about half of the major movies nominated (and found myself rooting for "The Help", "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", and "Bridesmaids"), but I wanted to watch anyway if only to keep my movie buff membership card. 

But Hollywood is the length of our country away, and seeing those faces on television is like having a window into another world. Greenville can, however, bring glamour to its local grassroots, and that's exactly what happened Sunday night at the Junior League of Greenville's (JLG) Oscar Night America at Zen in downtown Greenville. 

For the 10th year, the JLG hosted the "star studded evening of dining and dancing", as one of 49 organizations sanctioned by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Everything was monitored: there had to be an ABC affiliate, which was WLOS from Asheville. The VIP arrival on the Red Carpet had to be at 6 p.m. (tickets for that were $100), and the show  had to start at 7 p.m.. 

The event was as luxurious as I had ever been to, and I certainly felt underdressed. A sea of tuxedos adorned familiar faces from television, while each new woman one-uppped the last with their radiant ballroom gowns. Supermodels kept interest in the auction room while bartenders with smooth smiles served chocolate martinis. The food, by "Good Life Catering", was amazing, including a shot of tomato soup with a sliver of grilled cheese sandwich and fried macaroni & cheese stuffed with lobster and crab that put my last meal to shame. The music by 7 Once, a mix of soothing jazz and contagious disco, got patrons out on the dance floor almost immediately. 

But what about the hosts of the show? There are 292 Junior Leagues in four countries (Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and United States) around the world with 160,000 members. To paraphrase the Junior League of Greenville's website: It's a non-profit organization of women committed to promoting the physical, emotional, and educational well-being of women in Greenville County of all races, religions, and national origins. The focus is on voluntarism to develop the potential of women through effective action and leadership. This involves programs revolving around children and families, substance abuse, public education, older adults, the environment, and domestic violence. 

Before the show I sat down with the president of the Junior League of Greenville, Amie Owens. An alumni of Presbyterian College, she joined the Junior League in 1999 on a recommendation from her mother in law (someone that she "respects a great deal"). This is her first year as President. A petite woman, her warm smile and intelligent gaze communicates the presence of a strong leader and loud public voice.

Bart: This being the 10th anniversary, what started the Junior League's Oscar Night in 2002?

Amie: We were looking for a fundraiser. We go through different kinds of cycles where we fundraise. This was started by our administrative assistant, Tina Hampton. She's been there for 20 years. She has an almost compulsive relationship with Hollywood. Old movies, who was in this movie in 1942, who was nominated? She follows the websites ... what is it, the imdb?

Bart: The Internet Movie Database.

Amie: She tracks that kind of stuff!. She talked to our then president and said, "We should do this." I wasn't president then, I had no inside knowledge of that except that Tina came up with the idea. 

Bart: So there's food provided by "Good Life Catering", the live auction, the silent auction, the band playing, and the anteroom where they actually show the show.

Amie: If you want to call it that. There's usually a quiet area where you can watch. There are big screens playing everywhere. You can be wandering through the venue and watch it as you're chatting with your girlfriend. You can see "She won!" then go back to interacting socially while enjoying the Oscars.  We will have a professional photographer going through taking pictures, and those will be available for purchase if you like.

Bart: What is JL's relationship with Zen?

Amie: We were trying to lower our spending budget, and they were kind enough to work with us. It's a good venue, and we've built relationships over there. People like to go there because it's sophisticated and modern. You don't feel like you're in Greenville. A lot of the time Greenville people don't dress up that much. Big city people dress up, although even jeans are fashionable these days. Oscar Night is a chance to get dressed up. 

Bart: Any local big names attending?

Amie: There are a number of sponsors that come in and help. As far as local personalities, there's Lizz Ryals of My 102.5; she's going to be the MC of the presentation where we're doing the auction. Kimberly Kelly from Channel 7 is going to be on the Red Carpet when you arrive; we literally do have a Red Carpet. We try to give it a little bit of a Hollywood flair. Matt Holiday is the auctioneer of our live auction, and the silent auction is open as soon as you arrive. 

Bart: How does the Oscar Party fit into the JL's mission in Greenville County?

Amie: I really like the Hollywood aspect, but also the local aspect. It's very much apart of this area. This last year we created a grant cycle, we had money in the budget left over, and we wanted to find a way to make that work. We put together a grant process, we have a committee. We had non-profits submit applications, and then we went and did research. After a few months the committee came back with these four recommendations. After Oscar night, we will present four checks totaling $37,000 (to Meyer Center, Greenville Light Opera Works (GLOW), Girls on the Run, and the Julie Valentine Center]. 

We raise money in two ways: with our Nearly New Shop, and with the Oscar gala. Also members pay dues each year. Basically, we see where all the money is going each year, to all of our programs. Depending on what money is going where and what we have, we put the rest toward the grant. 

Bart: So your feelings on the nominations this year? Are you a movie fan?

Amie: I am a fan of movies, but I don't get to see them that often. I have seen "The Help".

Bart: I saw it and really enjoyed it. The Emma Stone character (Skeeter) offers a modern perspective. It feels relevant to this area and this time, being set in the south. My parents are from Alabama and grew up in that era, and they could relate. Also, it's significant that it has a predominantly female cast.

Amie: I read the book, and it was good. I watched the movie twice and thought it was beautifully done. It's fun to watch, but really difficult to watch because of the way they treated each other. It's a painful time in our nation's history. It covers a wide spectrum of good, honest, kind women to more stereotypical women. I found it to be a reflection of American society as a whole, about standing up for what's right. Being southern, the themes of the movie are something you can't get away from.

Bart: In a time when women didn't have much power, Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard) exercises what power she has, but hurts those around her in the process. By comparison, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" depicts a woman, all alone, struggling in man's world. Its portrayal of violence toward woman was truly shocking.

Amie: I haven't seen the new one, but I've seen the Swedish version and read the first two books. It's really harsh. One reason I don't like to go to the movies is some of the scenes are so violent. I want to be able to leave the room so my husband can call me back. The character (Lisbeth Salander) is so damaged ... that makes her the way she is. You cheer for her, and yet she's a loner, on the outskirts of society, abused every which way. She's strong, independent, and treats people better than a lot of the women in "The Help".

Bart: Any strong feelings about Hollywood's portrayal of women? For instance, "Bridesmaids" met with controversy, being called "The Hangover for women". 

Amie: Honestly, I'm very casual. There's entertainment and there's my job. I do go to the movies, but it's usually with my boys (who are 13 and), and it's what they want. If I have a night out, I'd rather it be in a restaurant chatting with friends. I also didn't finish "Bridesmaids". It's really raunchy, and I seem to be in a minority in that I didn't find it to be that funny. I fell asleep during it. I did like the fact that it was all women. Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, all the women in that are awesome.

Bart: What are JL's goals in Greenville County the rest of the year?

Amie: We don't have a lot of staff in our organization, just two people in our office. Just under 1,300 members, about 1,280 now. So this year I really want to focus on the members. JLG requires a great deal from women with children, husbands, and (as of a few years ago) 85 percent of our staff also have full-time jobs. I want them to feel like their time is spent well, making an impact. Members that are engaged are powerful. 

Bart: For anyone out there interested, what does it take to be a member?

Amie: It's an open membership. You do not need to know someone. We ask for a recommendation, but you don't need a sponsor. We have an open house on March 6 and 8.

Thank you Amie for a wonderful night.

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