Brian Smithson

Weatherhead/Charlotte Newcombe Resident Scholar


Piety in Production: Moviemaking as Religious Improvisation in Benin

Brian SmithsonBrian SmithsonPhoto courtesy of Karen Wodke.Brian SmithsonPhoto courtesy of Karen Wodke.

Brian Smithson’s project considers Beninese Yorùbá moviemaking as an act of religious piety aimed at downplaying Christian–Muslim differences by rendering “tradition” in a contemporary audiovisual medium. Drawing upon two years of fieldwork in Southeastern Benin as a researcher, apprentice filmmaker, and amateur actor, Smithson argues that movie production allows Beninese creators to celebrate indigenous religion and thus speak back from the margins of the two wealthier film industries that surround them: Nigeria’s Nollywood, and the Beninese state’s publicly funded cinema. Benin’s Yorùbá moviemakers reject the religious messages promoted by these larger industries—denigrating indigenous religion and the Yorùbá, respectively—thus denying the peripheral roles these film cultures leave them. They opt instead to make movies independently, while still carefully engaging both sides in the hopes of winning material support. Smithson’s project speaks to important debates in anthropology and allied fields about media and material culture, religious change, and aesthetics.

Affiliation at time of award:
Ph.D. Candidate, Dept. of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University

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