Ethics, Universality and Vulnerability in Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako (2006) and Timbuktu

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Abstract

This article adds philosopher Judith Butler to the list of thinkers whose work underpins the interest in ethics and/in film that began in earnest in the 2000s. Beginning with Precarious Life: Powers of Mourning and Violence, Butler has published several volumes that blend ethical thinking with moral theory and political philosophy, focusing on the concepts of precariousness and vulnerability. This article suggests that two films directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, Bamako and Timbuktu, as dramas of precariousness and vulnerability respectively, can inform thinking about cinematic ethics: the staging of a trial of global institutions in Bamako dramatizes the possible universalization of an ethic of precarity, while in Timbuktu the condemnation to death of a Tuareg shepherd by Ansar Dine, the militant Islamist group that occupied parts of Mali in 2012, allows Sissako to give full rein to his talent for filming the vulnerability of both victims and oppressors.

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