Approaching Terrorism on Screen: Contemporary Film and Television in France and Belgium

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines a select corpus of recent French and Belgian films and series that portray both fictional and real-world terrorist events. These films are set in France and, in two cases, Belgium, and approach the subjective experience of terrorism in vastly different ways, often offering up these experiences to audiences as uncritical objects of scrutiny. However, despite the clear interest amongst French and Belgian filmmakers to address the phenomenon of terrorism on francophone European soil since the 2010s, no study to date has taken the subjective experience of terrorism in this period in France and Belgium as its primary point of concern. Existing research in Film Studies has focused almost exclusively on portrayals of terrorism as a post-9/11 phenomenon relating mainly to American and anglophone cinemas, and French and Francophone Studies has tended to concentrate on depictions of terrorism during the Algerian War of Independence. As such, there has been no extended scholarly investigation into the ethics of depicting those who are affected by, die as a result of, or perpetrate terrorism in a French and Belgian context. This study is underpinned by an interdisciplinary theoretical framework that draws upon the ethics of representation, trauma representation studies, and critical race studies in tandem with the philosophical works of Emmanuel Levinas. A number of Levinas’s ethical theories help to elucidate the importance of acknowledging the irreducibly subjective experience of people affected by terrorism on screen. By applying this diverse theoretical approach, this thesis seeks to provide the first comparative account of how the experiences of survivor-witnesses, victims, and perpetrators of terrorism in recent French and Belgian cinemas have often been constructed in ways which cater to and privilege a traditionally white Western worldview.
Date of Award31 Dec 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJoseph McGonagle (Supervisor) & Darren Waldron (Supervisor)


  • colourism
  • Islamophobia
  • television
  • terrorism
  • Belgium
  • France
  • Levinas
  • film

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