In Search of Bengali Harlem

IN SEARCH OF BENGALI HARLEM on PBS WORLD Channel’s America ReFramed is NOW STREAMING on multiple PBS platforms: WORLD’s YouTube Channel, on the America ReFramed website, and on the PBS APP.

In Search of Bengali Harlem is remarkable in the way it tells the decades-long story of the Bengali community’s integration in Harlem, and the way Black and Brown people found each other, peeling back layer after deeply personal layer of one subject’s life. With a charismatic lead and beautiful musical accompaniment, this film provides a unique perspective of the immigrant experience and honors the singular place New York City has held throughout America’s history.”

– Juror’s Statement, DOC NYC 2022, Metropolis Competition.

(Documentary, 84 min., color/b&w)

Directed by Vivek Bald and Alaudin Ullah
Produced by Susannah Ludwig, Vivek Bald & Alaudin Ullah
Edited by Beyza Boyacioglu
With the Music of: Vijay Iyer, Zakir Hussain, Ganavya Doraiswamy, Yosvany Terry, 
Imani Uzuri and Anik Khan

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.