Past: Event: Moonlight & Movies | In Search of Bengali Harlem

When: Thursday, March 23, 2023, 6:30pm

This event has passed.

Black and white image of group sitting around a large table
Still: In Search of Bengali Harlem

Join us for a screening of "In Search of Bengali Harlem" (2022, 85 mins), a feature documentary directed by Vivek Bald and Alaudin Ullah. The film 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 first 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.

A talkback with the filmmakers, Vivek Bald and Alaudin Ullah, and Dr. Azra Dawood, curator of City of Faithwill follow the film.  We regret that due to unforeseen circumstances, NYC Councilwoman Shahana Hanif is no longer able to participate in the talkback.

In honor of Ramadan and guests who may be fasting, the Museum will offer complimentary dates during the event. Non-alcoholic drinks and light snacks will be available for purchase.

Part of our monthly Moonlight & Movies series.

About the Speakers:
Vivek Bald is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, digital media producer, and scholar. His work over the past twenty-five years has explored the stories and experiences of South Asians in the U.S. and Britain. Bald’s first documentary, Taxi-vala/Auto-biography (1994) examined the lives, struggles, and activism of New York City taxi drivers from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Taxi-vala premiered at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival in 1994, featured in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibition, New Directions in Indian American Film, and was broadcast by PBS in 1996. Bald’s second film, Mutiny: Asians Storm British Music (2003) focused on South Asian youth, music, and anti-racist politics in 1970s-90s Britain and premiered as part of Lincoln Center’s Independents Night series. In 2020, Bald consulted upon and appeared in the Peabody Award winning PBS documentary series, Asian Americans. He is the author of Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America (Harvard University Press, 2013) and is the faculty Director of MIT’s Open Documentary Lab, a unit devoted to the analysis and incubation of new forms of documentary: VR, AR & web-based; crowd-sourced; interactive and immersive. He is also developing "The Lost Histories Project," an interactive documentary and participatory oral history that will build upon and extend the Bengali Harlem film and book.

Alaudin Ullah is a playwright, actor, and son of one of the first Bengali Muslim men to settle in Harlem. Limited by negative stereotypes, with little to no representation, Ullah turned from acting to writing. 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. He was subsequently awarded one of the first Public Theater’s prestigious Emerging Writers Group Fellowships. This past year he premiered Dishwasher Dreams at Chicago's Writers Theater and Hartford Stage where he won the Connecticut Critics Circle award for outstanding Solo performance. 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 in 1965. This emotionally charged ensemble drama is in development for a stage production. In film, he co-starred in American Desi and did several voices for the award-winning animated feature Sita Sings the Blues. He is co-director of In Search of Bengali Harlem which has won several awards in film festivals across America including the DocNYC Special Mention Jury award.  Ullah's ongoing dedication is to creating stories and characters that counter, challenge and correct the misperception of South Asians and Muslims. 

Azra Dawood, PhD is a historian, architect, curator, and educator. Her work focuses on built environments and art practices, critically engaging with the themes of cultural pluralism, religion and secularism, empire, and philanthropy. Azra has practiced architecture in Austin, Karachi, and New York City. After receiving a doctorate in architectural history from MIT’s History, Theory and Criticism of Architecture and Art program and the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture she has taught at University of Houston, Bard College, and Pratt Institute. Azra is currently working on a manuscript about institutional projects financed by the Rockefeller philanthropic network in the early-twentieth century, reading these from the perspectives of immigration, the network’s pursuit of social engineering, and early-twentieth century theological movements. She has published a related article in The Journal of Architecture, titled “Building ‘Brotherhood’: John D. Rockefeller Jr. and the Foundations of New York City’s International Student House.” Azra is the curator of City of Faith: Religion, Activism, and Urban Space, currently on view at the Museum of the City of New York. She previously curated a web-based interactive timeline showing how the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests transformed public space and life in NYC. Her curatorial projects center socially-engaged approaches to public history.

Shahana Hanif represents the 39th Council District, which includes parts of Kensington, Borough Park, Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and the Columbia Waterfront. Born and raised in District 39 to Bangladeshi immigrant parents, Shahana has spent her life fighting for working-class families and a City rooted in care, equity, and justice for all. Her diagnosis at 17 with Lupus, an incurable chronic illness, and her subsequent experiences navigating the costly, nebulous healthcare system, and inaccessible City, were the catalysts for her organizing and commitment to public service. Before being elected to the City Council, Shahana served as the Director of Organizing and Community Engagement in former District 39 Council Member Brad Lander’s office, where she led grassroots initiatives like Participatory Budgeting, a process that gives New Yorkers a say in how to spend City dollars in their neighborhoods. She has also served as a tenants’ rights organizer, a gender justice organizer, and an interfaith organizer. Shahana is the first Muslim woman elected to the New York City Council, and the first woman to represent the 39th District. In her first term, she introduced several pieces of transformative legislation, from a mandatory universal residential composting program to seven paid days of sick leave for gig workers and other independent contractors.

Event Logistics (subject to changed based on NYC regulations):

  • Please contact with any questions or ticketing issues.
  • All sales are final; refunds not permitted. Exchanges and credit for future programs only. Programs and dates may be subject to change. 


Moonlight & Movies is made possible in part by Sophia and Peter J. Volandes.

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