Thérèse Sita-Bella (1933-2006)

Therese Sita-Bella
Therese Sita-Bella
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Thérèse Sita-Bella, born Thérèse Bella Mbida in 1933, was a Cameroonian film director who is widely acknowledged as the first female filmmaker in Africa.

Sita-Bella was born to the Beti tribe in southern Cameroon, then a French colony, and received her education from Catholic missionaries. In the 1950s, after graduating from school in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé, she went to Paris to continue her studies. Her interest in journalism and film developed while in Paris, and Sita-Bella graduated from the Société de radiodiffusion de la France d’outre-mer (France’s overseas broadcasting company).

Returning to Cameroon, Sita-Bella became the first female journalist in her nation to take up her craft on the eve of that nation’s independence in 1960. Her best-known work was a short documentary she filmed in 1963 titled “Tam-tam à Paris.” The documentary remained generally unnoticed until 1969, when it was shown at the opening week of an African cinema festival that would later be called FESPACO.

Sita-Bella also holds the distinction of being the first female pilot in Cameroon. She is also a writer, a guitarist, and a model. Due to her varied interests and activities, she made a name for herself in a male-dominated system in Europe and Africa that initially considered her a curiosity. Yet, through that work she paved the way for many African women of later generations.

Sita-Bella recognized her trailblazing efforts as one of the few women in the male-dominated film industry in Africa. In a rare interview discussing the film business in the early 1970s, she said, “Camerawomen in the 1970s? At that time, we were very few. There were a few West Indians, a woman from Senegal called Safi Faye, and I. But you know cinema is not a woman’s business.”

Therese Sita-Bella died of colon cancer in a Yaoundé hospital on February 27, 2006. She was 73. Sita-Bella was buried in the Mvolye cemetery in Yaoundé. A movie theater in the Cameroon Cultural Center in Yaoundé bears her name.