La Ùltima Cena

La Ùltima Cena, a movie directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, depicts the lives of Cuban slaves working in a sugar mill during the holy week before Easter. Don Manuel is the overseer of the sugar mill, and at the beginning of the movie, he is alerted to the news that one slave, Sebastian, has tried to runaway. Sebastian is returned to the plantation and his ear is cut off because he ran away. The Count sees this action and how poorly the slaves behave and invites twelve of them to dinner where he reenacts the biblical story of the last supper. 
Once the twelve slaves are invited to dinner with the Count who owns the mill, the Count starts the supper by washing the slaves feet, just as Jesus did to his twelve disciples in the Bible.  The Count goes on to tell the slaves about obeying their master. He teaches certain things from the Bible that are relatable to the slaves’ jobs and obedience.  This shows the power that the white educated man had over the illiterate slave. The Count could pick and choose which parts he told, so that the slaves are told what to believe. As noted in John Mraz’s, recasting Cuban Slavery, each of the slaves are from different parts of Africa. A few of them share their past experiences or stories with one another. This effects the way they interact with the Count and how their different origins impact their choices and beliefs. This scene is where the audience sees that Sebastian is a magical person who puts the Count to sleep with white powder. The supper ends with all of the slaves coming together to plan the destruction of the mill, which would take place the following day. 

The slaves in the movie were not treated well. (With the exception of the large dinner they were provided with in the movie). They were used for their labor until they could labor no more. In the movie, the character of Pasqual is an old slave who asks for his freedom from the Count. The Count grants Pasqual’s freedom to him, but Pasqual does not know what to do with his freedom.  Alejandro de la Fuente‘s article, “Slaves and the Creation of Legal Rights in Cuba: Coartación and Papel,” explains the same situation. Part of the article argues that a slave has always been enslaved, and thus knows nothing else but slavery.  Even after he is freed, Pasqual is treated poorly by Don Manuel who refuses to believe that the Count would have freed one of his slaves unless his judgment was impaired. Racially things were unequal.  The Count viewed himself as ultimately superior. He chose to tell his slaves pleasant things in order to keep them from revolting. The Count told the slaves they could have a day off only to have Don Manuel have them work.

Being a slave was rough at this point in time. As a slave you could not do much except work all day for your master.  Even if you were free you could not do much of anything, unless you had land or a trade. The laws made becoming a citizen very hard. According to article 94 in Fuente’s article, you could not be a member in government unless you owned profitable land. No slave would have that coming into freedom. So in turn the laws of Brazil worked against racial equality.  The Latin American culture, not unlike our own, was hesitant to the freedom of the African slaves, because just like in our own country slaves were not people, they were property.

Religion and race are two key themes throughout the film. Without the racial inequalities of the time, the relationships between the characters in the movie would not feel as unjust. It was also surprising to see that Hispanic people thought so lowly of black slaves when Hispanics were not treated as fairly as the white man. Without the religious views of the priest, Count, and the colonies, the slaves would have had an easier time assimilating, but because they bring their own native belief systems with them into their enslavement they are not treated equally. Equality for all, or just those with the right skin color and right beliefs? That is the question.