Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s film, La Ultima Cena, tells the story of a sugar cane farm’s owner recreating The Last Supper with twelve of his African slaves. This film gives a glimpse to the rights of slaves in the Americas. They were treated just as machinery and equipment are today. The idea of “run it until it quits, and then get another one” applies to the African slave population of the Americas justly. If more output was needed, then it was purchased and employed. In La Ultima Cena, the count intends to purchase a new horizontal sugar mill, which will increase the farm’s output. When the sugar mill “manager” mentions that more raw sugar cane is needed to match the new mill’s production, the count simply mentions that he can always buy more slaves.
La Ultima Cena touches on the topic of slaves attaining freedom. Kirsten Schultz’ essay addresses the introduction of freed slaves into society. During this time, citizens held debates over the citizenship of slaves, stating that a slave seeking citizenship and the right to vote should possess a trade skill or occupation (Schultz). Similarly, in Alea’s film, the elderly slave, Pascual is joyful when he receives his freedom, but soon sours. He comes to realize that the only life he knows is slavery, and his freedom carries with it, poverty and despair. The hope for a future life outside of slavery caused despair for many slaves. It was only compounded by those behind the whip.
John Mraz makes a distinction among those in power on these farms. “The owners were usually absent, and mayorales were commonly white and sadistic…” This is a truth in La Ultima Cena. La Ultima Cena is a story of a slave-owner turned savior who, very tongue-in-cheek, treats his slaves to a foot washing and a large meal. The count’s behavior contrasts that of Don Manuel, as well as historical Cubans. In the film, Don Manuel is ruthless in the performance of his sugar cane fields. Whether it is to meet the demand of the sugar mill or a general lack of concern for his labor force, Don Manuel disobeys the priest’s request and the count’s orders and wakes the slaves for another day of work. Don Manuel ignores his boss’ command concerning Pascual’s freedom, dismissing it as a drunken mistake. This move would seem to be foolish, but slaves were regarded as dispensable and replaceable. Any laws concerning slaves was ridiculed and ignored (Mraz). The count initiated the hunt and murder of the twelve slaves involved in the dinner, seeming to banish all emotional ties and assuming the role of the deceased Don Manuel. Historical accounts suggest a slave in Cuba had precedent to repel his/her treatment. Slaves’ rights and legal protection of those rights were very common in Cuba and other Iberian colonies (de la Fuente). These rights are not to the level of rights citizens in the U.S. are given, but they were simple matters of survival and treatment. In John Mraz’ article, he agrees with the punishment of the slaves during and after the rebellion.