La última cena

In contrast to The Mission, La última cena makes a concerted effort to portray to its audience an accurate and refined vision of a portion of Latin American history.  Its increased motive for doing so lies in its audience.  While The Mission was clearly directed at a broad segment of the people of the United States, La última cena’s director Gutierrez Alea aimed at an audience that at least originated in one of the many Latin American countries.  La última cena is obviously intended for people who will most likely relate to the characters and have a deep understanding of the background of the film.  As a result, Gutierrez Alea has less space to portray historical inaccuracies while still presenting an authentic film.


As strange as the count’s actions in the movie may seem for a slaveholder of this time period, according to the article by John Mraz a similar story of a count’s attempts to reach out to his slaves and the ensuing slave rebellion is actually chronicled by the historian Manuel Moreno Fraginals.  Gutierrez, however, goes a step further than simply recreating a story he found.  The director accurately reflects the dynamics between institutions involved in slavery in Cuba.  The most apparent institutional conflict in the film is that between the church and economic production.  Although slaveholders of the time period may have blamed the count for the rebellion as a result of him showing the slaves what freedom looked like, the real perpetrator was this institutional conflict.  The church told the slaves they would not have to work on Good Friday, but economic demands would not allow for more than a few days off per year, which Mraz claims “provides an insightful glance into the functioning of paternalism and religion in slave society” (114). 


Another institutional issue in La última cena is the glaring lack of any legal authority other than the count himself.  In his article, Mraz quotes scholar Franklin Knight, who claims that the conditions of slavery was “determined by whether or not the slave found himself on the plantation or in the city, and by the unwritten laws of the individual, often very powerful, owner” (118).  This absence of legality is presented at multiple times throughout the film.  The audience is exposed to this phenomenon early in the movie when the overseer cuts off the ear of a slave who had escaped.  The count is disgusted, but seems helpless to control the overseer at any point during the story.  Although he and the priest strongly disagree with the overseer’s insistence of working on Good Friday, they do nothing about it and the result is a rebellion.  Instead of the escaped slaves being subject to any sort of legal proceeding at the end of the movie, the count has his men kill them and post their heads on the ends of spears.


Gutierrez Alea also touches on the debate over slaves’ rights and the perceptions of slaves across Latin America.  In Kristen Schultz’s article on Latin American slavery, she includes a transcript of discussion of the Brazilian constitution’s article six, which deals with the citizenship of slaves upon their attainment of freedom.  One of the members of the assembly asserts that free African-Americans are “harmful members of society for which they are a burden [even] when they do not cause evil” (31).  Even the count, who probably has the most sympathetic view of his slaves out of all the non-slave characters in the movie, doubts the capacity of slaves to operate as productive citizens outside of the plantation, and his negative views towards slaves certainly come to light at the end of the movie.