A New York actor and playwright investigates the pasts of his Bangladeshi immigrant parents in the documentary In Search of Bengali Harlem. Directed by Vivek Bald and Alaudin Ullah, the documentary will make its New York Premiere at DOC NYC in Metropolis Competition.
As a teenager in 1980s Harlem, Alaudin Ullah was swept up in the revolutionary energy of early hip-hop. He rejected his working-class Bangladeshi parents and turned his back on everything South Asian and Muslim. Now, as an actor and playwright contending with the Islamophobia of post-9/11 Hollywood, Alaudin wants to tell his parents’ stories. But he has no idea who they really were, no idea of the lives they led or the struggles they faced as Muslim immigrants of an earlier era.
In Search of Bengali Harlem follows Ullah from the streets of New York City to the villages of Bangladesh to uncover the pasts of his father, Habib, and mother, Mohima. Alaudin discovers that Habib was part of an extraordinary history of mid-20th century Harlem, in which Bengali Muslim men, dodging racist Asian Exclusion laws, married into New York’s African American and Puerto Rican communities – and in which the likes of Malcolm X and Miles Davis shared space and broke bread with immigrants from the subcontinent. Then, after crossing the globe to visit the former homes of his parents, Alaudin unearths unsettling truths about his mother: about the hardships and trauma that she overcame to become one of the first women to migrate to the U.S. from rural Bangladesh.
In Search of Bengali Harlem is a transformative journey, not just for Alaudin Ullah, but for our understanding of the complex histories of South Asian and Muslim Americans.
Watch the teaser trailer for In Search of Bengali Harlem.