In Search of Bengali Harlem


TYPE
: Documentary
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production

LOGLINE

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SYNOPSIS

As a youth growing up in Harlem’s Washington Carver Projects in the 1970s and 80s, Alaudin Ullah found himself through hip-hop and graffiti. He turned away from his Bangladeshi Muslim parents and rejected everything South Asian. Now, as an actor facing the most stereotypical South Asian and Muslim roles, he realizes he has nothing but stereotypes about his own father and mother; he knows nothing about who they were and about the lives they led. In Search of Bengali Harlem follows Ullah from the streets of Harlem to the villages of Bangladesh to uncover the pasts of his father, Habib, and mother, Mohima. On the journey, we discover that Habib was part of a hidden history of South Asian Muslim men who were rendered “illegal” by the Asian Exclusion laws of the 20th century, but who quietly disappeared into existing communities of color in Harlem and the Lower East Side. Here, along with their African American and Puerto Rican wives, they created a vibrant multiracial community under the radar of the immigration laws. We also discover, with Alaudin, the the struggles that defined Mohima's childhood in her home village, and her strength and courage as one of the first women to immigrate to the United States from rural Bangladesh.

ARTISTIC STATEMENT

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KEY CREW

Vivek Bald - Director

Vivek Bald is a documentary filmmaker and writer whose work explores the stories of the South Asian diaspora. His films include "Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music" (2003) a music documentary/social documentary featuring Asian Dub Foundation, Fun^Da^Mental, Talvin Singh and others, that focused on South Asian youth, music, and anti-racist politics in 1970s-90s Britain, and "Taxi-vala/Auto-biography," (1994) which examined the lives, struggles, and activism of New York City taxi drivers from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. "In Search of Bengali Harlem" is one element of a transmedia project recovering the histories of peddlers and steamship workers from British colonial India who came to the United States under the shadows of anti-Asian immigration laws in the early to mid-twentieth century, and married and settled within U.S. neighborhoods and communities of color. The other parts of the project include the book Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America, published by Harvard University Press in January 2013 and a digital oral history website, currently in development at bengaliharlem.com.

Alaudin Ullah - Director

Alaudin Ullah is a playwright and actor and the son of one of the first Bengali Muslim men to settle in Harlem. Ullah is the author of the acclaimed one-man show, Dishwasher Dreams, based on his father’s life in New York City in the 1930s-60s. Ullah premiered Dishwasher Dreams at the New Works Now! Festival at New York’s Joseph Papp Public Theater in 2006, and was subsequently awarded one of the Public Theater’s prestigious Emerging Writers Group Fellowships. In the years that followed, Ullah has performed Dishwasher Dreams in theaters and community spaces across the United States. Ullah’s three-act play Halal Brothers, centers on the interactions between African American and Bengali Muslims in a Harlem halal butcher’s shop on the day of Malcolm X’s murder. This emotionally charged ensemble production premiered as part of the 2002 Indian Diaspora Playwrights Festival at the Lark Theater in New York City. 

 

Susannah Ludwig - Producer

Named a “visionary independent producer,” by The Sundance Film Institute when they awarded her the prestigious Mark Silverman Fellowship, Susannah Ludwig has had a varied and dynamic career in film production. Most recently, she produced Kings Point, which was nominated for an Academy Award and premiered on HBO in March 2013. Ludwig co-created and executive produced the docu-series Boomtown, about the effects of oil discovery on a small town in North Dakota. Boomtown aired on Discovery/Planet Green and won the prestigious IDA award for Best Documentary Series in 2011. Stolen, a feature documentary exploring the infamous 1990 art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, was released theatrically in 50 cities, distributed via Netflix and broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens . Ludwig has produced numerous other documentaries such as Flat Daddy (iTunes, Hulu, and other digital platforms in November 2012) Animas Perdidas (Lost Souls) (PBS); My Mother’s Garden (MSNBC); Close Up: Photographers at Work (Ovation TV); and Self Portrait With Cows Going Home and Other Works: A Portrait of Sylvia Plachy (Ovation TV). She serves on the board of Kids in Need Foundation, a nonprofit which provides school supplies to children who cannot afford them.

 

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ACCOLADES

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IFP Fiscal Sponsorship Program 2019
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Center For Asian American Media Documentary Fund 2019

 

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