This week’s movie, La Ultima Cena, directed by Tomas Gutierrez Alea depicts the living conditions and circumstances of the slaves and slave owners in Central America in the late 1700’s. La Ultima Cena does a very good job showing the audience what life was like for both parties during this period. During this time slavery was a little more different than one would initially think. Most people think, on the issue of slavery, that slaves worked and had no say about anything having to do with their own lives. However, not that they were treated well by any stretch of the imagination, it was surprising to learn that slaves did have a couple of rights bestowed to them that they could use under the extreme circumstances they had to deal with. The readings told of some of the rights that the slaves had and how they were enforced or if they were enforced as well as describing the historical differences and similarities within the movie.
The first reading by John Mraz entitled Recasting Cuban Slavery broke down the components of the movie in comparison with the anecdote it was based off by Manuel Moreno Fraginals of and history itself. The movie did a good job of relaying the religious and cultural elements of the scene. The movie was set during one holy week in the late 1700’s which was a driving force and a central conflict in the movie. When the head master of the plantation invites 12 slaves to sit with him at his dinner table and reenact the last supper he thinks he is teaching them Christianity, patience, and propriety, but they see him as foolish and just a way to get a free meal. The slaves use that time with their master to discuss their grievances and address their issues, one slave is even granted freedom from servitude. The master seems to be kind and caring to them, but in reality he is really just appeasing them for the moment because the next day not only does he not give them the day off from work on that holiday, but he disregards the freedom he granted the one slave. Although the slave owner thought he was doing a noble righteous thing he was really just reinforcing their unhappiness and longing for a better life, which lead to the uprising that occurred the next morning. However, the movie did a good job of depicting how the slaves were from different regions and backgrounds during that shown in the scene at the dinner table when the slaves were sharing stories and dancing. The uprising that occurred the next morning showed the slaves burning the huts and sugar/cane fields and buildings, killing the man that controlled them and his wife which was something that really happened during this time. Mraz stated that uprisings would sometimes occur daily which isn’t how the movie made it seem. The movie made it appear as if this was an extreme reaction to an extreme situation that rarely ever occurred, or at least the audience would not know from the movie that this was a regular occurrence.
Another reading by Alejandro De la Fuente titled Slaves and the Creation of Legal Rights in Cuba: Coartacion and Papel, spoke of the rights that slaves had during this 17th and 18th century. While slaves were not afforded many rights they did have a few very important ones that were not all addressed in the film. Slaves had the right to set their own cost when being sold if they did not think they were going for a fair price, they had the right to sell themselves to a different owner if they were not being treated properly (even against the owners will) or to take up grievances with someone in that same situation. These rights were not always taken seriously; they could be taken to court, but most of the time they were still somewhat at the slave owners discretion. It was not until 1842 that they became codified as legal rights recognized by the courts. The movie showed a little bit of this with the slave having been granted freedom and then not receiving it, but you did not get the whole story of the slaves rights and how they were granted or refused based on the cruelty and reorganization of their owners.
Over all the movie did a decent job on it historical accuracy.