La Ultima Cena
Human Rights is a concept insisting that all human beings are equally entitled to the same rights and liberties, regardless of qualities such as nationality, ethnicity, skin color, age, gender, social class, and the like. The ideas upheld by the concept of Human Rights are a subject of interest in the film La ultima cena. The film depicts life from the perspective of slaves in Havana, Cuba during a time in history when the institution of slavery was commonplace in Cuban society. The filmmakers, as described in an article by John Mraz, wished to produce a movie that achieved the highest possible degree of historical accuracy. According to the available historical documents and research, La ultima cena projects a fair representation of African slavery in Cuba. For those who view the film, they are left with the impression that the slaves were not treated in any sort of humane manner; their living conditions, under which the basic needs for human survival are, in most cases, unattainable, were unfit for any and all human beings. True and lasting happiness, healthfulness, comfort, and security are nearly impossible for slaves to achieve in their lives; this point is made clear towards the film’s end. Eleven of the twelve slaves presented in the film are no longer alive when the movie reaches its’ final scene. Sebastian, the only slave who appears to survive, is portrayed as fleeing the sugar mill, as he runs into a nearby forest.
Also in relation to the notion supported by Human Rights, namely equality, is that the slaves in the film are thought of as mere property by the overseer, who degrades and belittles the slaves, as if they are not members of the human race. This is evident in numerous places throughout the film. For example, the slaves’ clothing—if even worthy of being labeled as such—consists of dirty, worn, and ragged scraps of material, which appear to be in short supply, as each slave is depicted wearing very little clothing, with much of the body exposed. An obvious parallel exists between the slaves’ attire as pictured in the film, and an image from the website titled The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas. The image, labeled as “Sugar Boiling House, Cuba, ca.1850”, depicts slaves at work inside of a sugar boiling house, presumably, while white men and women are shown as in the same room, yet unlike the slaves, the whites are seated and being served drinks by an African-looking young boy. The slaves are only wearing shorts or trousers that reach the knee, in contrast to the attire of the white men and women, which consists of long pants that reach the ground, many various layers of shirts, floor-length dresses with full skirts, ribbons, hats, and shoes. From study and analysis of this image, which can be used as a source of historical verification, it is reasonable to state that the costuming and wardrobe presented in the film is fairly historically accurate.
Kristen Schultz, in her literary piece titled “Slavery, Race, and Citizenship in the Empire of Brazil”, articulates many historical points of truth that can be linked to the film’s depiction of history. She makes mention that slavery was a significant part of and directly linked to the economy and society of the land in which in thrived. Many of the nation’s leaders and representatives claimed to have felt uneasiness in allowing the practice of slavery to continue in the corrupt and harsh way that it did; however, when realizing the tremendous impact that abolition would have on the social and economic scenes in their nation, an immediate end to slavery was no longer something up for consideration. This highlights that for the individuals who were in positions of power and influence, social and economic—money—had priority over their sentiments that slavery was an unjust institution. Money and power, in their eyes, was places above human lives. In the film we see a similar scenario when looking at the way in which the overseer treats the twelve slaves. The overseer is far more concerned with production and money than he is with fair and humane treatment of the slaves.