African-American author Fatima Shaik makes an unlikely quest from New Orleans to India to uncover her roots in award-winning filmmaker Kavery Kaul’s THE BENGALI

Fatima Shaik in Kavery Kaul’s Le Bengali. Photo credit: riverfilms

NEW ORLEANS (press release) – Fatima Shaik, an African-American (Economy Hall) author from New Orleans, whose family has lived in Louisiana for four generations, embarks on an unlikely quest for The Big Easy at a part of India where no African-American (or American) has ever disappeared. Her search for the past is fraught with uncertainty as she searches for the descendants of her grandfather Shaik Mohamed Musa, the lands he claimed to own, and the truth behind the stories she grew up with. His incredible journey is told in the new feature documentary THE BENGALI by award-winning director Kavery Kaul (Cuban Canvas, Long Way From Home). Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Roxbury Film Festival and the International Humanitarian Award at the Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival, The Bengali will make its Louisiana premiere at the New Orleans Film Festival. The film will be screened virtually from November 5 to 21 (Click here for virtual screening tickets geo-blocked for online viewing in the southern US only).

The Bengali crosses seemingly insurmountable cultural divisions to shed light on current issues, telling a daringly different story of immigration to recapture timeless themes of family. Kaul, who is herself from Calcutta, travels with Shaik to the great city of Calcutta, the Bengal countryside, and the streets of New Orleans, with unique access to people and places from both countries. Their journey is tempered by hope, fear and surprising encounters with strangers.

Nuance and intimacy mark the cinematographic style. With lively animation, fluid editing, and evocative music, The Bengali blends form and content to forge a dynamic, creative non-fiction work about a woman’s journey in search of her past. Through Shaik’s moving and inspiring quest, The Bengali tells the untold story of South Asians and African-Americans in the United States African American women. The men were Muslims; their wives were Christians. Together they built families in an America that kept them all at bay. Shaik is a granddaughter of this vibrant cultural tangle. Kaul reveals how a vital chapter of the story has been ignored so far. Bengali adds significant richness to the legacy of migration.

“By filming in the Southern United States and in a South Asian village halfway around the world, I want to give viewers a chance to step into the shoes of someone they may never meet. . And discover a family they never expected. This is the only way to break down the barriers between “them” and “us,” Kaul said. “I’m so excited to be showing the film in New Orleans where this story started.”

Kaul adds, “Black and brown immigrant populations are continually at odds, but in reality, African American and South Asian populations in the United States have a long history of meaningful associations. Bengali makes these connections stronger and even more relevant. And I wanted to make a documentary that challenges the nature of inclusion in our collective past and the assumptions about who is telling the story. I wanted to shed light on the truth in personal history, memory and myth.

The Bengali’s acclaimed creative team includes editor / producer Lucas Groth (Cuban Canvas), executive producer Deborah Shaffer (director of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short, Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements), director photography John Russell Foster (Winner of the Special Jury Prize for American Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, Dick Johnson is Dead), composer Nainita Desai (Oscar nominee for Best Feature Documentary, For Sama), host Maya Edelman (Emmy winner for Broad City) and associate producers Veronique N. Doumbe (Emmy nominated Black Enuf) and Margot Edman (Credits with BBC, UNICEF and NOVA from WGBH).

About the director:

Kavery Kaul is an award-winning filmmaker whose character-driven documentaries challenge who “we” are and who tells this story. Through an intimate lens, she creates stories that endlessly overlap different worlds. Founder of riverfilms, her works have been shown at DOC NYC, Telluride, London, Rotterdam and Sydney festivals, among other major festivals; in countries like India, Japan, Burkina Faso, Spain and Italy; at the Kennedy Center (DC), the National Museum of Women in the Arts (DC), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY), the Jameel Arts Center (Dubai) and the High Museum (Atlanta). Cuban Canvas, an intergenerational look at the painters of Havana, was nominated for the Imagen Award, a selection of the Margaret Mead Film Festival. About three girls, strangers to their schools, Long Way from Home was a film reviewer’s choice, Time Out and Booklist. Kaul’s documentaries have reached a large audience on television, in theaters and in all media. They have also been presented to thought leaders around the world, from the International Brain Injury Association to the Asian-American Educators’ Alliance. She is a 2014 Fulbright Fellow and 2017 Logan Fellow. Born in Kolkata, India, she received a Proclamation of Excellence from New York City where she lives. His new documentary The Bengali is currently in festival and has won numerous awards. In his highly acclaimed TEDx speech (, she talks about the power of storytelling as a way to connect people across lines. As an artistic speaker for Fulbright’s 75th anniversary, she reminded us that “Stories Matter”.

About the subject:

Fatima Shaik was born in New Orleans. His family has lived there for at least four generations. His father Mohamed was the son of Shaik Mohamed Musa and Tennie Ford. Fatima is Shaik’s granddaughter. As an author, she drew on her Louisiana roots in six collections of short stories and novels for young adults. A director of PEN America and recipient of the Louisiana Writer of the Year award, her most recent work is the non-fiction Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free, Black Brotherhood.


Kavery Kaul – Director, screenwriter, producer

Lucas Groth – Editor, Producer

Deborah Shaffer – Executive Producer

John Russell Foster – Director of Photography

Nainita Desai – Composer

Maya Edelman – Host

V̩ronique N. Doumbe РAssociate producer

Margot Edman – Associate Producer

USA – 2021 – 72 min – Color – DCP

Film website:

Kavery Kaul / River Films website:





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