The Carter G. Woodson Institute, U.Va.

The Carter G. Woodson Institute

for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia


Brian C. Smithson is a cultural anthropologist who studies the audiovisual cultures and religions of West Africa. As a Woodson Research Associate, Brian is completing a book titled Economies of Praise: Making Movies Religious in Benin—a story of cash-strapped movie producers, Christian–Muslim animosities, and professional rivalries in Yorùbá-speaking Benin. The book shows how moviemakers overcome these hurdles by championing Yorùbá indigenous religion, its ethical principles, and its moral demands. The movies they make borrow from African art cinema and Nigeria's Nollywood alike. Yet they do so to establish Beninese creators as local celebrities and to make Yorùbá spirits active presences for viewers. Video filmmakers and their traditional religious allies demand acknowledgement from the state, counterparts in Nigeria, and spiritual kin throughout the African Diaspora. The book thus argues that moviemaking itself has become essential to allowing indigenous Yorùbá religion to thrive. 

Brian's work draws from his experience as an apprentice video filmmaker in Benin, and his co-production of a full-length, Yorùbá-language movie under the guidance of several Yorùbá filmmakers. Brian earned a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and a master's degree in African Studies at UCLA. He has taught at Duke and Bowdoin College.

First Name: 
Post-Doctoral (Cultural Anthropology)
Duke University
Dissertation Title: 
"Piety in Production: Video Filmmaking as Religious Practice in Bénin"