AFI Movie Club: 20TH CENTURY WOMEN – American Film Institute
20th Century Women Film Still - Annette Bening and Lucas Jade Zumann



20TH CENTURY WOMEN, a nostalgic ode to director Mike Mills’ own childhood, follows Jamie – a young boy navigating relationships, punk rock and gender constructs – and the three women in his orbit, played by Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning. Annette Bening was honored with a tribute at AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi, where she introduced the film.

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Watch director Mike Mills talk about Annette Bening in this exclusive video from the AFI Archive:


DID YOU KNOW? 20TH CENTURY WOMEN was inspired by writer/director Mike Mills’ own mother and sister and their love of “underdog, misbegotten, impossible houses” when he was growing up in Santa Barbara, CA. According to Mills, “the movie is a love letter to all the women who raised me. In my life, the people who really had an impact on me, who showed me how to be me, were all women.”

DID YOU KNOW? Classics like STAGE DOOR and CASABLANCA helped filmmaker Mike Mills figure out his mom’s voice, which he calls, “anti-authoritarian, funny and witty.” He said, “she really did sort of walk and talk like Amelia Earhart and Humphrey Bogart put together.”

DID YOU KNOW? It took writer/director Mike several years to write the screenplay for 20TH CENTURY WOMEN. A year into this process of creating this story, which was partially inspired by his childhood, he had a son of his own with fellow artist and filmmaker Miranda July.

DID YOU KNOW? Filmmaker Mike Mills started thinking about making this movie in 2011 while on a press tour for BEGINNERS, but he wasn’t sure if he should continue mining his own life for material. When the autobiographical BEGINNERS became a critical hit, Mills “learned to trust that [filming] personal material about people whom you love isn’t selfish [and that he could] write it in this emotional, slightly anthropological way.”

DID YOU KNOW? The character of Abbie, played by Greta Gerwig, is loosely based on Mike Mills’ older sister – who, like Abbie, went to art school in New York and returned home to California after being diagnosed with cervical cancer. In researching the role, Gerwig was surprised to learn how much of a stigma there was surrounding cancer in the 1970s. She said, “if you got cancer, you didn’t talk about it…There was an incredible amount of shame around having cancer, not to mention cervical cancer or breast cancer. It was like cancer of your womanhood in a way.”

DID YOU KNOW? The essay that Jamie reads to his mother Dorothea in the film about the invisibility of an aging woman is called “It Hurts to Be Alive and Obsolete” by feminist Zoe Moss.

DID YOU KNOW? The digital color-streaked freeway scenes were inspired by the displaced colors of trains taking off in the 1966 film DAISES, a pinnacle of the Czechoslovak New Wave movement. “I was trying to express a pre-digital life,” said director Mike Mills, “when cars were magical transportation vehicles to take you to music or whatever.”

DID YOU KNOW? Mike Mills received a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the 2017 Academy Awards® for 20TH CENTURY WOMEN. The film also received nominations for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actress (Annette Bening) at the Golden Globes.

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-Why do you think the film is titled 20TH CENTURY WOMEN? Do you think the three women at the center – Dorothea, Abbie and Julie – are emblematic of this in their own way? How so?

-What do you think the burning car at the beginning of the film represents?

-Why do Dorothea and Jamie have a challenging time relating to one another? What efforts do they make to bridge this divide?

-What is the significance in Dorothea enlisting Abbie and Julie in helping Jamie navigate adolescence and become “a good man”? How is his upbringing unconventional?

-What are examples of toxic masculinity vs. enlightened masculinity in 20TH CENTURY WOMEN? How is Jamie at time punished and at other times rewarded when he tries to exhibit a more progressive form of masculinity?

-Why does Abbie make everyone at the dinner party say “menstruation”? How is her normalizing the female body – particularly as a cervical cancer survivor – important in the film? Why does such language make Dorothea uncomfortable?

-How does the film use music to inform Jamie’s emotional journey? How is punk music central what does it represent in the film?

-How would you rate 20TH CENTURY WOMEN?


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AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies. Each day’s film is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to enrich your viewing experience.

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