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 in post-9/11 America, Alaudin wants to tell his parents’ stories, but has no idea of the lives they led 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 a rich lost 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. He also unearths the hardships and trauma that his mother overcame to become one of the first women to immigrate 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 Asians and Muslims in the United States.
This film is part of the Asian American Pacific Islander Film Series, produced in collaboration with American Citizens for Justice (ACJ), with additional support from Rising Voices and funding from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission (MAPAAC).
AFTER THE FILM: Detroit-based documentary filmmaker and producer Razi Jafri talks with “In Search of Bengali Harlem” co-directors Alaudin Ullah and Vivek Bald.