Based on historical events, La Última Cena (The Last Super) depicts the treatment of African American slaves during the 18th and 19th centuries when Cuba became a leading sugar production area in the global market. While not a historical documentary, the movie exhibits real social problems that affected the inhabitants of Cuba of the time period. The issues of racism and oppression of the African slaves are highlighted throughout the film as viewers are able to observe the labor conditions, treatment, and punishment of insubordinate slaves (i.e. Sebastian) by their European master and a Hispanic overseer.
The Havana sugar mill’s main purpose was to produce a substantial amount of income for the Count and the mill’s overseer, Don Manuel. The consideration of a slave’s accommodations at the mill was not in the forefront of the Count’s mind, even after viewing the poor conditions of the mill in a tour. According the Shultz’s article, detailing a discussion of African slaves becoming legal citizens, the educated elite describe Africans as “harmful members of society for which they are a burden” (Shultz 31). A typical African individual, free or bonded into slavery, was considered unworthy of equal citizenship to the Europeans or native peoples. The Count, from his education and the influential social customs of his peers, blindly follows the tradition of believing that the most practical use of a slave is as a tool for his mill instead of a free man. Their existence in the sugar mills is to complete a job, nothing more or less. Similar to the Europeans, Don Manuel dominates on the use of African slavery, despite his status as a Hispanic man, and he requests the Count purchase more slaves to produce sugar at a quicker pace.
However, an underlying issue is presented as the film progresses: the religious sanction of slavery and the justification of the institution. While Don Manuel’s evil intentions for the slaves are obvious to the viewers of the films, the priest living on the sugar mill utilizes his education to continue slavery in the area. The bondage of another human being is considered to be sinful, but the priest manages to validate the bondage using religion has an acceptable reason. According the Mraz’s article, “a priest works assiduously for the ruling class, endeavoring to persuade the slaves that their lot is tolerable and just” (Mraz 112). In the film, the priest and the Count explain to the chosen 12 slaves that they can only attain their true happiness through the difficulties of harsh labor opposed to living a life freely outside the mill. The justification is thus further proven when an elderly slave is granted freedom by the Count at the dinner, but is unable to leave the mill due to his inability of finding a new home.
The African slaves at the sugar mill are continuously taught that their harsh labor will give them true happiness after their deaths, however, after being denied a holiday off from work, the slaves rebel in a violent manner. While racism and oppression are easily perceived by the viewers, the justification of slavery through religion drives the main plot of the film. While the Count continuously states that he supplies the slaves with the religious means on attaining happiness, his main concern is attaining income from the mill and not providing proper accommodations for the African slaves.