La Ultima Cena

What caught the most attention for me in La Ultima Cena was the scene in which Pascual received freedom during the “last supper.” Pascual, looking like the oldest of the slaves, simply went up to The Count during dinner and told him that he only had a year left before he received manumission. The Count, feeling an unusual calling to Christ-like generosity that was slightly encouraged with several glasses of wine, grants Pascual his wish and he is a freed slave one year ahead of his scheduled time of manumission. Whenever he is granted freedom the Count asks, “What are you going to do now that you’re free?” The question seemed unanswerable to Pascual, a man who has probably spent the majority if not all of his life in slavery; if not in Brazil, in Africa. He then continues to ask, “Where will you go?”, and again Pascual has no sufficient answer. I never thought about life after freedom for a slave. Being placed in a slave ship with no regards to family members, health, or the place they were leaving behind. The slave identity wasn’t of concern until a Constitution was in the draft stages. Where does a people that comprises a large part of the population belong in regards to citizenship? “Yet the criteria for citizenship were various. Certain exclusions, such as those based on age, gender, and lack of wealth, did not generate discussion. Others were subjected to strict scrutiny… [such as] legal status; perceptions of cultural, ethnic, and physical difference; and place of birth” (K. Schultz 29). A people that comprised the foundation of a newly-founded country’s economic society and was involved in “armed forces to fight the cause of independence, promising freedom in return” (29). No longer can these African slaves go unnoticed without being accounted for in any type of legal documentation or law regarding freedom statuses. Or can they? Can one write a Constitution that excludes hundreds of thousands of people to essentially write them out of history? “The Constitution of 1824 did not recognize the institution of slavery, the existence of slaves, or the possibility of abolition…This constitutions formed the legal foundation for the Brazilian Empire until its overthrow in 1889″ ¬†(29). The Count almost laughed at Pascual’s wish for freedom because he knew that Pascual was an old man with no way to restore his life with a return to his family (them most likely being slaves), begin a trade, or have people believe him without proper documentation. However, the need for slaves in the army created a loophole in the system. By granting them freedom that could be achieved at a fairly young age if one survived warfare, that increased the possibility of that slave creating a name for himself, starting a family, and populating Brazil with born-free Negroes (libertos)¬†with the right to property and protection of Brazilian law. But the law-makers saw right through this and only made it where “the right of territorial origin to be considered citizens” would belong to libertos crioulos, not African libertos.

The identity of a slave is such a sad one; it’s as if his own identity doesn’t even belong to himself, but to his destination given to him. “They are certainly not foreigners; … nor do they have any paitria (homeland), … nor do they have a religion that is not the one which we profess” (32). Whenever Pascual ran to tell Don Manuel of his freedom he laughed at the impossibility of it all and claimed that The Count granted him manumission because he was drunk. In the end, Pascual probably would have stayed at the sugar mill because he simply didn’t have anywhere else to go. No family, no trade beyond cutting cane, and no ties to Africa other than his memories. La Ultima Cena mocked Jesus’ last supper with his 12 disciples before his crucifixion, and The Count was a conceited man seeking humility of Jesus, but wanting all the praise and “holy aura” from his slaves. This movie provided me with an insight about slavery that I had never thought about in great length: the identity of a slave after freedom.