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Films >> Ultima Cena, La (The Last Supper) (1976) >>

1) We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence)

2) I advance it, therefore, as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. (Thomas Jefferson 536)

3) When freed, he [the slave] is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture. (Thomas Jefferson 537)

4) I want to add my testimony to that of abler pens to convince the people of the Free States what Slavery really is. Only by experience can any one realize how deep, and dark and foul is that pit of abominations. May the blessing of God rest on this imperfect effort in behalf of my persecuted people! (Harriet Jacobs 1)

5) To us, the proposition that the Negro is equal by nature, physically and mentally, to the white man, seems to be so absurd and preposterous, that we cannot conceive how it can be entertained by any intelligent and rational white man. (Matthew P. Deady, qtd. in Finkelman 4)

6) I felt extreme anger whenever I saw the word "nigger." Hearing it in Spanish was worse. In my father's family, there's nothing worse you can say to a person that that word, especially in Spanish. Furthermore, I felt that the translations hid a lot of what was truly being said. I felt as though the translators wanted to hide what was being said, and for good reason: the actual meanings were quite deplorable. (Andrea Espinoza, Lehigh University)

7) American slavery has produced and cultivated more African intellect, more social affection, more Christian emotion in two hundred years than all Africa [has produced in] two thousand years. American slavery is a redemption, a deliverance from African heathenism. . . . The best thing that could be done for Africa, if they could live there, would be to send [to Africa] a hundred thousand American Slaveholders, to work [the Africans] up to some degree of civilization. (Joseph C. Lovejoy, qtd. in Finkelman 6)

8) The rapid extinction of the colored race will follow. . . . Slavery may multiply the colored population till its number shall become alarming; but if we will give freedom to the black man, we have nothing to fear from his increase. . . . When by the act of emancipation the Negro is made a free laborer, he is brought into direct competition with the white man. . . . and he soon finds his place in [the] lower stratum . . . where he can support himself in tolerable comfort as a hired servant, but cannot support a family. The consequence is inevitable. He will either never marry, or he will in the attempt to support a family, struggle in vain against the laws of nature, and his children will, many of them at least, die in infancy. Like his brother, the Indian of the forest, he must melt away and disappear forever from the midst of us. (Julian M. Sturtevant, qtd. in Finkelman 10)

9) The only principle that can maintain slavery [is] the principle of fear. (Freehling, qtd. in Finkelman 40)

10) No planter hereabouts has any of his slaves, but I have seen within the short time I have been in this part of the world, several dreadful accounts of murder and violence, in which masters suffered at the hands of their slaves. There is something suspicious in the constant, never ending statement that "we are not afraid of our slaves." The curfew and the night patrol in the streets, the prison and watch-houses, and the police regulations, prove that strict supervision, at all events, is needed and necessary. (William Howard Russell, qtd. in Finkelman 41)

11) If there are sordid, servile, and laborious offices to be performed, is it not better that there should be sordid, servile, and laborious beings to perform them? If there were infallible marks by which individuals of inferior intellect, could be selected at their birth—would not the interests of society be served, and would not some sort of fitness seem to require that they should be selected for inferior and servile offices? And if this race be generally marked by such inferiority, is it not fit they should fill them? (Chancellor William Harper, qtd. in Finkelman 156)

12) There is something truly perverse about watching a slave owner fancy himself Jesus. I think it was because of this fact that I found myself rather unsettled through the entire viewing. . . . No man, no matter how cruel he may be at heart, is perverse enough to believe that slavery is a legitimate or good institution; thus, slave owners and slave drivers were forced to concoct ridiculous rationales for why what they were doing was, in fact, not evil but a good thing. . . . there is always something disturbingly enjoyable about seeing evil men get their just deserts. (Eric Edgerton, Lehigh University)

13) The whole scope of the English languages is inadequate to describe the horrors and impieties of Slavery, and the transcendent wickedness of those who sustain this bloody system. (William Lloyd Garrison, qtd. in Finkelman 163)

14) Permit to say that I think most of your facts must have been drawn from the West Indies, where undoubtedly slaves were treated much more harshly than with us. (James Henry Hammond, Pro-Slavery 128)

15) Slavery anticipates the benefits of civilization, and retards the evils of civilization (Chancellor Harper, Pro-Slavery 19)

16) [The defense of slavery is] the defense of a domestic institution, which we hold to be not simply within the sanctions of justice and propriety, but as constituting one of the most essential agencies, under the divine plan, for promoting the general progress of civilization, and for elevating, to a condition of humanity, a people otherwise barbarous, easily depraved, and needing the help of a superior condition—a power from without—to rescue them from a hopelessly savage state. (The Southern Literary Messenger, Pro-Slavery 1837.)

17) The count makes a martyr out of Manuel by dedicating a church to him. This is in direct contradiction to his earlier statements on Manuel’s sinfulness. Gutierrez is once again presenting the idea of public and private life in officials of state, but I am disappointed not to see a scene of the Count in personal misery over the events. Instead, he stands defiant like a dictator cursing the heads of his betrayers. We are given a resurrection, of course. Sebastian remains free in the hills running like an animal and probably remaining free to establish a Maroon society. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)

18) Slavery has raised the Negro incomparably higher in the scale of humanity. (Nathan Lewis Rice, qtd. in Finkelman 5)

19) In all social systems, there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have. . . . It constitutes the very mud-sill of society. . . . Fortunately for the South we have found a race adapted to that purpose to her hand. . . . We do not think that whites should be slaves either by law or necessity. Our slaves are black, of another, inferior race. The status in which we have placed them is an elevation. They are elevated from the condition in which God first created them by being made our slaves. (James Henry Hammond, qtd. in Finkelman 157)

20) The master's route of justification via religion puts his moral opposition in a deadlock; if they do not agree with him, they do not agree with God, and if they do agree with him, they are agreeing to the physically and mentally abusive treatment of other humans. (Carina Meleca, Lehigh University)

21) The priest's obligation to instruct the blacks in Christian doctrine is portrayed as being constantly in conflict with the overseer's duties to maximize production. Thus, in broad strokes, The Last Supper provides an insightful glance into the functioning of paternalism and religion in slavery. (John Mraz 113)

22) [Gutierrez Alea would] rather be a part of a community working to build something together than an expatriate renegade, however successful. (B. Ruby Rich)

23) His [Tomas Gutierrez Alea's] body of work, both documentaries and fiction films, serves as an example of a responsible filmmaking practice that looks to promote social change while experimenting with the aesthetic and narrative possibilities proffered by cinema. (Gilberto Blasini 1)

24) One aspect of the film that stood out to me was the hysterical laughter made by the slaves. I could swear that the actors' laughter was being dubbed over by some kind of animalistic yelping (I would believe it if someone told me they used actual monkeys). Their behavior was grossly exaggerated and their retelling of stories and tribal dances went far beyond those we have seen in previous films. This has the effect of dehumanizing the slaves, as I and many of my classmates could barely stifle our laughter at these men's as they screamed and spastically flung their bodies around. (Courtney Brown, Lehigh University)

25) Alea's film La ultima cena is a subtle, ironic fable, an allegory of the religious hypocrisy of a plantation owner toward his slaves. . . . [It is] a tour de force of black comedy. (Michael Chanan 271-72)

26) The slave does not win in humanity what the master loses in selfhood. Rather, both master and slave lose out because in unfair economic systems such as slavery and feudalism, it is almost impossible for either masters or slaves to recognize themselves in the other. Not only do these systems create such deformations of humans as “masters” and “slaves,” but by reducing the definition of “self” so drastically, they impede personal development and solidarity with one’s fellow humans. (Paul Schroeder 87)

27) I criticize within the Revolution everything that I think is a distortion of those objectives and those paths of hope -- in other words, everything that has set us off the path, to the point of placing us where we are today, in a very dangerous and agonizing crisis. . . . I believe that in Cuba values exist that do not exist in other places, and I greatly regret that they are being perverted, and I try to fight to recuperate them. It’s a very personal and intimate need. (Gutierrez Alea, qtd in Chanan 52-53)

28) As much as the slaves are depicted as dehumanized and savage, the same also applies to the master. To me the slaves are not savage but rather mislead and betrayed; essentially the master become Judas. My favorite scene must be when the master finally wakes up hungover and stumbling, depicting him more of a demi-human and savage than the slaves ever will be. (Jose Berrios, Lehigh University)

29) Most of the Count's preachings generally conform to those of early Church Fathers, who also lived in a slave society. (Dennis West 130)

30) In The Last Supper, the escaped slaves are hunted down and killed one by one; their heads are displayed on pikes. However, one head is missing: that of Sebastian. The film concludes with a montage of Sebastian running through the forest; cinematographically, we are given to understand that he has been transformed into other forms: a hawk, water, rocks, a horse. One intriguing possibility is that Sebastian represents the figure of Baldomero, a santero (witch doctor) who took to the hills with followers and avoided capture by changing "himself into a serpent, or a stone, or a tree." (John Mraz 119)

31) Gutierrez returns from his expressionistic technique to a more documentary style during the slave insurrection. Manuel dragged by the crowd is reminiscent of news footage documenting riots. Manuel’s death in the stock is clearly meant to parallel Christ’s crucifixion, although he is no Christ, and the Count appears delusional to make the comparison. This is certainly a message that the Communist government in Cuba would approve of -- Christ the slave master. The slave insurrection differs from that in Haiti, as the leaders in this film fail to lead. Both Sebastian and Bangoche desert their people and run in separate directions. This is a problematic ending and doesn’t denote the Carnivalesque rebirth that we would hope for. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)

32) Experience has demonstrated, that a wild and lawless freedom affords no means of improvement, either mental or moral. The Charaibes of St.Vincent, and the Maroon negroes of Jamaica, were originally enslaved Africans, [...] they now are, the freed negroes of St. Domingo will hereafter be; savages in the midst of society without peace, security, agriculture, or property ignorant of the duties of life, and unacquainted with all the soft and endearing relations which render it desirable; averse to labour, though frequently perishing of want; suspicious of each other, and towards the rest of mankind revengeful and faithless, remorseless and bloody-minded, pretending to be free, while groaning beneath the capricious despotism of their chiefs, and feeling all the miseries of servitude, without the benefits of subordination! (Bryan Edwards 191)

33) In the priest's catechismal session with the twelve chosen slaves, the clergyman preaches moral guidelines consistent with the Count's teachings -- a doctrine of resignation serving to sustain the socioeconomic status quo. (Dennis West 130)

34) Is it [skin color] not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the races? Are not fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of color in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black which covers all emotions in the other race? (Thomas Jefferson, qtd in Finkelman 50)

35) I couldn't help but to compare the depiction of the last supper to Snow White (if you'll pardon the color pun) and the seven dwarfs rather than Jesus and his twelve disciples. Each slave seemed to have a different, stupid personality -- Singing/dancing slave, grumpy slave, cannibal slave, old slave. . . . The stereotypes were ridiculous. The senseless laughing that occurred throughout the dinner scene just added to this. If the aim of the film was to point out horror of slavery the filmmakers did an extremely poor job. (Haydn Galloway, Lehigh University)

36) Despite the allusions to his status as a Christ figure, his religious nature, and sincere goodwill he feels towards his slaves, the count does not achieve the self-denying standard of Christ. In the end, his typological performance is little more than the ostentatious pretension of a man who, due to his mixed feelings regarding the institution of slavery, has a guilty conscience but will not cede his place of power. (John Havard 61)

37) Tomas Gutierrez Alea alters an old adage: "The road to Calvary is paved with good intentions.” The central figure . . . is a great economic sinner who, like St. Augustine, would like to atone for his sins and be martyred but, unlike Augustine, his penance is only an Easter vacation for his conscience (Karen Jaehne 48)

38) The Last Supper is a cinematic microhistory that is tightly linked to evidence from the Cuban past. Not only does it show different types of grinding mills, residence habits of plantations owners, male to female ratios among slaves, wooden stocks, and other practices of punishment, but it documents the conflict between the devotional practice urged by priests and the Spanish government, on the one hand, and the production schedules urged by administrators, on the other. (Natalie Zemon Davis 62)

39) This film was absolutely hilarious. Although it spoke about a serious topic, I couldn't help but crack up half the time. . . . But my official opinion on this film was that I absolutely hated it. I felt that it basically described Blacks as savages good for nothing more than working the cane and making the Count look like what history has painted Europeans to be for many, many years: the ever-saving vision of God on Earth. It reminded me of the telenovela La Esclava Isaura, a show that renders people of the African diaspora as nothing more than slaves. (Andrea Espinoza, Lehigh University)

40) Both La Ultima Cena and Chico Rei attempt to achieve unified political action by inspiring a racially inclusive identification with eighteenth-century slaves. The films imagine a confluence of racial streams into one symbolic whole, an image of national identity that follows but rearranges a traditional three-part composition. Whereas such discourses of mestizaje/mesticagem had for decades before emphasized the central contribution of Europe and Christianity to Brazilian and Cuban society, these two films draw on and reinforce discourses of negritude prevalent at the time and recruit Afro-Brazilians and Afro-Cubans as a new symbolic center of a racially mixed concept of identity. (Richard A. Gordon 315)

41) The Count, whose bath symbolizes his effort to cleanse his soul, will make an effort to instruct the slaves and lead by example. Unlike Christ, his effort is vainglorious rather than humble. In fact, his ruthless behavior after the uprising counteracts any pious traits while concomitantly revealing a vindictive and sadistic side as he assumes godhead. (William Deaver)

42) As Sebastian tells this myth, he takes a pig's head from the banquet table, which is certainly an anachronism since Christ and the disciples would not have eaten pork, and uses it to mark his own head. The image is strong and contemporizes the present struggle as it connotes an anti-capitalist pig message that equates the United States to the Lie. (William Deaver)

43) Like the Count, the priest conveys that compassion and humility are to be reserved for “special,” purifying times of the year, not everyday behaviours of those in power. The normal, everyday behaviours are linked to prescribed roles, believed to be set forth by God: slaves must respect and obey the commands of the master and overseer, and those in command must punish those who do not obey. Here, again, the “celestial-monarch Christ” rears its ugly head: human authorities represent Christ and are to be obeyed as one would obey him. (Holly Joan Toensing)

44) I want to think The Last Supper attempted to show the audience how slave owners attempted to rationalize their crime, hiding behind religion and using it to convince the slaves their wretched condition is the will of God. Through sorrow and misery they may feel God's love, so sayeth the master, for He wants them to work the cane fields. Ironically, the master's words only spur the slaves towards divine realization, that Jesus was a martyr to all men and women. Despite attempts from the more dogmatic to spin rhetoric into their own power fantasy, the document's original intentions tend to shine through, offering up the body of truth. (Adam Kaufman, Lehigh University)

45) The Cuban Catholic Church . . . sanctioned this kind of discourse, a discourse that distorts the spirit of Christianity for the purposes of justifying and perpetuating the interdependent systems of slavery, aristocracy, and capitalism. (Paul Schroeder 83)

46) Who, then, am I dialoguing with? Well, with people who, in one way or another, have to do with this situation, who are responsible for this situation, the intolerance, the ostracization of the person who is different, the nonacceptance of the person who thinks with his or her head. (Gutierrez Alea, qtd in Chanan 49)

47) [So why in Cuba should film directors assume the role of social critics?] Because there are no other voices. Journalism, for example, does not perform its mission of social criticism. (Gutierrez Alea, qtd in Chanan 51)

48) I might here expatiate on the wonderful dispensations of Divine Providence, in rallying up the enslaved Africans to avenge the wrongs of the injured aborigines: I might also indulge the fond but fallacious idea, that as the negroes of St. Domingo have been eye-witnesses to the benefits of civilized life among the whites. -- have seen in what manner, and to what extent, social order, peaceful industry, and submission to laws, contribute to individual and general prosperity (advantages which were denied to them in their native country). (Bryan Edwards 190)

49) 18th century writers talk of the danger and necessity of allowing holidays for slaves. The accounts differ, but some say this free time helps to distract them from their suffering. Others, I believe, felt it gave them a dangerous taste of freedom. Manuel is certainly of the later distinction. The Count also washes his hands of the affair by telling the priest that Manuel is a “violent man who commits necessary sins.” Here it appears economy outweighs spiritual guidelines. The priest is a much divided character -- in strong protestant manner he preaches freedom in heaven, but not on earth. He attacks the Count for his carnivalesque activity. The Priest seems to believe that the Count’s greatest sin is to teach the slaves what it was like to sit at the master’s table. This is a strangely contradictory statement for a priest to make; in it Gutierrez praises the voice of the church, but condemns its actions. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)

50) Hegel's notion of recognition means that the master depends on his bondsman for acknowledgment of his power, indeed for assurance of his very selfhood. As the Count reiterates his order that Sebastian recognise him [the Judas parallel] the camera emphatically dollies in on their juxtaposed faces, and a tense silence reigns. The slave's eventual answer is to spit in the master's face -- a brutal refusal to recognise the other's lordship and the graphic expression of the bondsman's true self-consciousness: in spite of his actual bondage, the slave's mind is his own. (Dennis West, qtd in Chanan 273)

51) The film sends a very powerful message. If you want your freedom, you better be prepared. Sebastian, who tried to escape several times, who spent much time in stocks and suffered severe beatings, finally got his freedom. Why, would you ask? Because he was ready to seize the opportunity. He got a machete, he got that substance to mislead the dogs -– and we see him running free while the others who ran into the woods are beheaded. What destiny lies ahead of him is a completely different story. But somehow you believe that he will prevail. This is so much different from that old Pascual who at the end of his life was “freed” for one evening and could not figure out what he would do. As I see it, freedom for him was just an abstract thing that every slave dreams about, but he seemed to have never given any thought about how to utilize that freedom. He was lost when he got it, and he easily gave it up when the overseer told him to forget about it. (Elena Zubenko, Lehigh University)

52) [The Last Supper enacts] the profound and intricate Hegelian dialectic of lordship and servitude traced in The Phenomenology of Mind. (Dennis West, qtd in Chanan 273)

53) Directly, I notice that this film was created under the Cuban Government agency of “El instito Cubano del Arte Industria Cinematografios.” The statement is clear, this film is under the watchful eye of the government; in other words, the film is loaded with double meanings, coded language, which at once criticizes and buttresses the government. In one of Gutierrez’s last films, Fresa y Chocolate, I recall that one of the major themes concerns the difficulty of being an artist in a regime that demands a specific kind of art. By using an ambivalent tone this film presumably criticizes the past and present of Cuba. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)

54) Duclé with his expertise in sugar refining, enthusiasm for improvement, and enlightened secularism -- he does not attend Maundy Thursday service -- was clearly an attractive figure for these Cuban artists and intellectuals in the 1970s: as an example of the best “progressive” element of the “new bourgeoisie” he also rises above narrow class interest. (Natalie Zemon Davis 63)

55) Although the Count’s behavior would seem to indicate the continued existence of religious belief , the reactions of those around him indicate that his attitudes are completely out of touch with the times. His retainers try to dissuade him from such a foolhardy act, and the slaves think he is crazy. Religion has become a handmaiden of the slave regime, and the distrust of the priest manifested by the slaves in both films can be seen in the desconfianzi they demonstrate in front of the cleric. (John Mraz 115)

56) For Christians and for those who evoke Jesus as part of a living tradition that guides their behaviour today, the film also brings to the fore the nature of discipleship and the care that must be taken to identify systems of power that lurk behind contemporary faces of Jesus. (Holly Joan Toensing)

57) The centerpiece of the film is the reenactment of the Last Supper itself. Not surprisingly the Count plays Christ. . . . The narrative, which has been structured so far almost like a rose, its elements overlapping each other in an extraordinarily penetrating evocation of the texture of slavery, now begins to explore the intricate interpersonal dynamics which operate within the plantation’ despotism. Repeatedly the realities of power and potential resistance are counterposed to the ideological lenses of the actors. (John Downing 290)

58) Our role is to be united with the revolutionary process. Thus our language as filmmakers has to evolve parallel with the revolution. It is important to be conscious of this, because one can accommodate oneself very easily to stereotypes, to comfortable ways of doing things. Let’s face it, there is a tendency sometimes to resist change, don’t you think? So that I think Goddard’s work has been useful to us in this sense what condemns Goddardian cinema in the last analysis is its own incommunicability. If it doesn’t reach the people, it is of no use. (Tomas Gutierrez Alea)

59) Some superior spirits may hereafter rise up among them, by whose encouragement and example they may be taught, in due time, to discard the ferocious and sordid manners and pursuits of savage life; to correct their vices, and be led progressively on to civilization and gentleness, to the knowledge of truth, and the practice of virtue. This picture is so pleasing to the imagination, that every humane and reflecting mind must wish it may be realized; but I am afraid it is the mere creation of the fancy -- the fabrick of a vision! (Bryan Edwards 190)

60) For Christians, the religious rationale for slavery was a two-edged sword. On one hand, it placed God on the side of exploration, conquest, and enslavement. Europeans came to the America, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands with conversion in mind and Christian monarchs justified the cost of colonization with an appeal to spreading the faith. [. . .] But if the purpose of conquest was conversion, what justified enslavement once these former pagans had been baptized? (Paul Finkelman 11)

61) The struggle for liberation depicted in The Last Supper reaches beyond the Afro-American slave setting; the film's revolutionary implications prevail wherever there exist human relations of the dominance-dependence type. (Dennis West 132)

62) Hence, among any savage people, the introduction and establishment of domestic slavery is necessarily and improvement of the condition and wealth and well-being of the community in general, and also of the comfort of the enslaved class, if it had consisted of such persons as were lowest in the social scale –- and is beneficial on every such case to the master class, and to the community in general. (Edward Ruffin, qtd in Finkelman 64)

63) By proslavery I mean quite simply the general attitude of favoring slavery, either "favoring the continuance of the institution of Negro slavery, or opposed to interference with it. [. . .] By the definition I am using, a person could for reasons known only to himself denominate slavery an evil and yet argue that to tamper with the institution would be to court social, political, economic, or moral disaster. Hence, at least in my point of view, a proslavery thinker was anyone who urged indefinite perpetuation of slavery for any reason whatsoever." (Larry Tise xv)

64) We understand what cinema’s social function should be in Cuba in these times: It should contribute in the most effective way possible to elevating viewer’s revolutionary consciousness and to arming them for the ideological struggle which they have to wage against all kinds of reactionary tendencies and it should also contribute to the enjoyment of life. (Tomas Gutierrez Alea 110)

65) I am truly taken by the opening scene depicting a fresco in parts. The use of Gregorian chant offers an otherworldly feel to the close-ups of the paintings and sets the mood for a film that will look at a historical moment in detail but will leave the interpretation of the whole to the viewer. First, a moving camera pans the fresco beginning at the top showing Christ in Majesty who is resting in clouds above. The camera pans down to show a haloed saint and then a close-up of his outstretched hand. Gutierrez appears to be obsessed with the images of hands in this fresco. The camera focuses on the Virgin Mary’s hand which holds a rosary, then another hand showing a small cross on a necklace. In this case, the rosary appears chainlike connecting the image of the saint and the Virgin. Near the end of this scene, the final focus of the shot is a hand clutching a rose tree that is bristling with thorns. The camera is determined to slowly show the horror of the scene by showing an extreme close-up of the hand around the branch. Gutierrez evidently wants to make us think about the nature of pain and its association to religion. Perhaps he also wants to take this fresco out of context -- in this view it becomes (if not already) a very disturbing image depicting self-inflicted suffering. This scene is reminiscent of surrealist take on religion along the lines of Bunuel, although I can’t recall a direct comparison. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)

66) Washing the feet of the poor in church on Holy Thursday had long been a practice of European monarchs, including the Spanish king, and bishops in the Old World and New. The historical Count of Casa Bayona would presumably have seen it performed by the Bishop in the diocese of Cuba, but performing it himself on his own slaves and having them to dinner in the role of the apostles was, in Moreno Fraginal’s words, “out of the question” among plantation owners in Cuba. (Natalie Zemon Davis 67)

67) One intriguing possibility it that Sebastian represents the figure of Baldomero, a santero (witch doctor) who took to the hills with followers and avoided capture by changing “himself into a serpent, or a stone, or a tree.” (John Mraz 119)

68) The body of the dead or dying “dolorous Christ,” graphically depicted in torturous agony from the blows of his oppressors, presents an image “calculated to impel a human being to search out happiness in suffering.” Concurrently, Christ as the “celestial-monarch” transferred his eternal authority over all things to earthly representatives, in whom he is manifested and revealed—monarchs, colonial officials, landowners, or landlords. For subjugated peoples, the function of these two faces, combined, was clear: One should develop a Christ-like attitude in patiently enduring the brutality by those who have Christ-like power and authority over you. These are the very images of Christ that Gutiérrez Alea’s film criticizes. (Holly Joan Toensing)

69) The film begins with the camera panning reflectively over medieval frescoes of roses in a church, whilst a motet of great beauty and intensity is being sung in the background [. . .] The screen darkens, then light suddenly erupts again via a door kicked savagely open. We are in a slave-hut and the overseer is bearing down on us with threats and curses. This harsh transition is reminiscent of the famous contrast drawn by Marx in Capital between the abstract theory of labor in classical bourgeois economics, where the laborer has parity with the capitalist, both having a commodity to exchange with each other -- wages against labor, "A very Eden of the innate rights of man" -- and the rough reality of the capitalist labor-process. (John Downing 288)

70) I believe that we are guilty of having overindulged our interest in historical topics, despite their great importance at this state in our national development. We are very much involved in re-evaluating our past. All of us feel the need to clarify a whole series of historical problems because that is a way of reaffirming our present reality. (Tomas Gutierrez Alea)

71) I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications. (Thomas Jefferson, qtd in Finkelman 53-54)

72) The Greek ideas of natural slavishness dovetailed perfectly with Southern notions of slavery. One need only substitute “black” or “African” for barbarian, and Southerners easily and quickly recognized that the great thinkers of ancient Greece were truly their allies. (Paul Finkelman 30)

73) The West Indian slave "enjoys the singular advantage, over his brother in freedom of being attended with care during sickness, and of having the same provision in old age, as in the days of his youth. Instead of being oppressed to feed a large family, like the labourer in Europe, the more children he has, the richer he becomes, for the moment a child is born, the parents receive the same quantity of food for its support, as if it were a grown person; and in case of their own death, if they have any reflection, they will quit the world with certainty, of their children being brought up with the same care they formally experienced themselves. They may be pronounced happier than the common people of many of the arbitrary governments in Europe, and even several, of the peasants in Scotland and Ireland." (Richard Nisbet qtd. in Tise 28)

74) Godwyn penned a lengthy volume [The Negro’s and Indians Advocate (1680)] that curiously blended favorable views of the Negro’s character and an earnest plea for the promotion of religion among slaves with defenses of slavery. While arguing that "the Negro’s (both Slaves and others) have naturally an equal Right with other men to the Exercise and Privileges of Religion," he also attested to the compatibility of Christianity and slavery by suggesting that religious instruction, far from creating discontent among slaves, would make them better servants. (Larry Tise 18)

75) Film has always moved between two poles: documentary and fiction. Very soon cinema became “popular,” not in the sense that it was an expression of the people –- of the sectors most oppressed and most exploited by an alienating system of production –- but rather, in the sense that it could attract a heterogeneous public, the majority, avid for illusions. (Tomas Gutierrez Alea 111)

76) During the tour of the sugar refinery we are presented with more themes and symbols. First, Don Gaspar describes new technology and is confronted by the priest about the “witchcraft” of such techniques. Here we see Gutierrez attack the backward nature of the church as being caught in old superstitions. Yet technology isn’t the new god for Gutierrez, the mill is an unpleasant-looking industrial building filled with smoke and sweat. I don’t think we can exactly call this film communist worker’s propaganda. Although I’m not sure conditions have improved greatly in Cuba. Through Don Gaspar’s statements, the screenwriters emphasize religious cleansing. Once again, the motif of cleansing arises as Don Gaspar compares the process of refining sugar to Christian Purgatory. He states “what will be white, must first be black.” This double statement refers to the age-old idea of cleansing a soul blackened by sin, but it also references the conflict of black versus white skin. Gaspar’s words work against him, for he seems to say both black and white are of the same nature and come from the same place. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)

77) The portrayal of the slaves in these movies is also relatively accurate. One of the most important elements is the insistence on their varied origins, something rarely done in film or other forms of popular history. Dancing was not only one of the few recreational activities available, but slaves also were often forced to dance. (John Mraz 118)

78) The Count’s explicit association of the overseer with Christ is one of the more jarring scenes of the film since earlier the Count had emphatically asserted to the slaves during the Last Supper reenactment that Don Manuel “could never be Christ” and would never gain heaven because of his horrific abusing and thieving ways. Don Manuel is indeed caught, “scourged,” and killed, as was Jesus in Mark’s gospel, but not by the dominating powers of society and not because he stood up to the plantation’s oppressive ways. Don Manuel was the plantation’s instrument of oppression and he was killed by the powerless of society. (Holly Joan Toensing)

79) The Church’s declining role is mirrored in the ineffectual, almost ridiculous character of the priest. Indeed, one major strand in the narrative is precisely the hollowness of Christianity’s precepts in the face of the class struggle between slaves and slaveowners. (John Downing 289)

80) The film raised some important questions concerning slavery. The most significant one for me was the question of slave liberation. In the scene in which the master frees an old slave, the latter cries and says that he has no place to go. At this moment I remembered Jefferson, his thoughts on the slave liberation, and his doubts about the destiny of the freed slaves, meaning that liberation of slaves is not that hard, what is hard is to prepare both sides and society for this liberation and consider all the possible consequences. (Olga Zhakova, Lehigh University)

81) Still, even this worst and least profitable kind of slavery (the subjection of equals, and men of the same race with their masters) served as the foundation and the essential first cause of all the civilization and refinement, and improvement of arts and learning, that distinguished the old nations. (Edward Ruffin, qtd in Finkelman 65)

82) One key argument in favor of slavery was the failure of free blacks to prosper. . . [Thomas Cobb] discusses what he calls "the savage barbarity, the miserable idleness, the continual outbreaks, the ruined cities, the abandoned agriculture" of Haiti, where, he asserts, "the dark mantle of heathenism" has "settled upon this once beautiful and fertile island." (Paul Finkelman 77)

83) Film will be more fruitful to the extent that it pushes spectators toward a more profound understanding of reality and consequently to the extent that it helps the viewers live more actively and incites them to stop being mere spectators in the face of reality. To do this, film ought to appeal not only to emotion and feeling but also to reason and intellect. (Tomas Gutierrez Alea 120)

84) The Count’s order for Manuel to “choose twelve” is certainly a parody of the way the Apostles were chosen. They were called but not forced to follow Christ. It may also be a comment upon the cultural imperialism of the Church, forcing Christianity upon the slaves. This is an interesting scene, for after the twelve are chosen, the camera excludes them, and we only see the Count walking through to inspect them. The point of view has changed, at least for this moment. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)

85) The Haitian revolution had left Cuban slaveholders trembling in fear, and the comments of the French sugar master in The Last Supper attest to this constant preoccupation. (John Mraz 120)

86) Wanting to acknowledge the key role black Africans played in the Cuban revolution, some of ICAIC’s film directors depicted the revolutionary spirit extending back to 18th-century African slave resistance to French and Spanish colonization. The Last Supper provides windows into African mythology and storytelling that ground the slaves’ ambivalence toward the Christian messages preached to them and, eventually, their open rebellion to oppressive conditions on the plantation. (Holly Joan Toensing)

87) The Church’s declining role is mirrored in the ineffectual, almost ridiculous character of the priest. Indeed, one major strand in the narrative is precisely the hollowness of Christianity’s precepts in the face of the class struggle between slaves and slaveowners. (John Downing 289)

88) Unlike Thomas Jefferson--who despite his disapproval of slavery, still saw it as an economically (though not morally) justifiable practice--it is interesting to note that the master in this film uses moral and religious justifications to rationalize his degrading treatment of other human beings based on the color of their skin. By appealing to Biblical stories as the basis for his behavior, the master absolves himself of any guilt and wrong doing because he sees himself as simply an "actor" following God's will, rather than as a racist and morally deplorable man who uses religious texts to rationalize his sense of social superiority. (Krystal Kaai, Lehigh University)

89) By no means an equalitarian, Saffin argued that God had intentionally "set different Orders and Degrees of Men in the World intentionally" and that any push toward equality would be "to invert the Order that God had set." Phrasing a statement that was repeated endlessly in proslavery literature Saffin wrote that God had ordained "some to be High and Honourable, some to be Low and Despicable; some to be Monarchs, Kings, Princes and Governours, Masters and Commanders, others to be Subjects, and to be Commanded; Servants of sundry sorts and degrees, bound to obey; yea some to be born Slaves, and so to remain during their lives." (Larry Tise 17)

90) Increasingly, a greater and greater responsibility falls on the masses and, for that reason, we can no longer let the public merely cling enthusiastically and spontaneously to the Revolution and its leaders and to the extent that the government passes on its tasks to the people, the masses have to develop ways of understanding problems, of strengthening their ideological coherence and of reaffirming daily the principles which give life to the revolution. (Tomas Gutierrez Alea 109)

91) The priest’s sermon also offers another interesting scene of perspective. In the church the priest talks to the slaves as if they were children, although he gives a message of equality -- some look on in anger, some ignore him. Here Gutierrez shows us the hierarchy, the slaves sit on the floor and the priest stands. Directly after this scene, one of the first reversals occurs. While the slaves are bathing and washing clothes, the priest lectures them for their impropriety. Yet he falls several times and his failure to control the slaves evokes laughter. While the priest doesn’t come across as a grand inquisitor, that role is left to the Count, he is lowered from his dignified position by laughter. This is the first in a series of carnivalesque scenes in the film. Such scenes mock authority figures or at least put them on the same level as the slaves. Gutierrez is very clever in the way he creates these scenes, for they don’t promise change, they only seem to be break from the power of authority. Each one is an ambivalent holiday moment that allows freedom and laughter but still preserves the structure of the society. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)

92) Later, during the reenactment, the Count’s humbling action of eating with his field slaves is poignantly juxtaposed by the camera’s view of his personal slave in the shadowy background, ever ready to attend to the Count’s wishes and needs. The Count’s humility does not extend to his personal slave; this slave is too necessary to maintain the master’s true power and domination during his apparent humiliation. (Holly Joan Toensing)

93) Yet on kneeling by the overseer’s side the Count asks “When did Christ die?” The priest answers, “At this very hour.” The overseer ‘becomes’ the suffering Christ, just as Truth bore the head of the Lie. Class, color, religion, the very definition of humanity, are fused into the single brutal schism between owners and slaves. (John Downing 293)

94) It was not necessary to denigrate the Negro race to defend slavery; nor was it essential to be critical of free labor to maintain slavery’s necessity. In simplest terms, a member of a slave society could state a desire to preserve the status quo, registering a fear of social change, and thereby qualify as a proponent of slavery. (Larry Tise 12)

95) Of course, film and reality are not -- cannot be -- completely divorced from each other. A film forms part of reality. Like all man’s works included in the field of art, film is a manifestation of social consciousness and constitutes a reflection of reality. (Tomas Gutierrez Alea 121-22)

96) As the film progresses the scenes become more symbolic and the camera work more expressionistic. In the Maundy Thursday service, Gutierrez uses a close-up on hands dropping flowers on the church floor followed by a close-up of hands dropping rose petals into water. Here the symbolism from the opening seen is incarnate in the service. The irony is that the roses are used to cover the smell of the slaves, and they also serve as a symbolic way of covering over the sin of the Count. Gutierrez is careful to show the Count experiencing inner torment in private scenes, but in public he remains calm. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)

97) The Count believes that he suffers in ways similar to Christ. When the Count demands during the supper that the recently captured escapee, Sebastian, answer, “Who am I?” -- a clear echo of Jesus’ question put to the disciples in Mark’s gospel, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29) --Sebastian refuses to answer and, in fact, spits in the Count’s face. This act ordinarily would have meant certain death for the slave, and for a visibly tense moment, the Count prevents himself from retaliating. Yet in dramatizing Christ in the reenacted Last Supper, the Count considers this derision the kind of evil Christ experienced and accepted at the hands of his enemies and even one of his own, Judas; thus, he accepted it too. (Holly Joan Toensing)

98) As for free Negroes, "if there be not some strict course taken with them by Authority,” Saffin continued, "they will be a plague to this Country." Judging from the Negro past of dark paganism and perpetual war, however, blacks were better off as American slaves: "it is no Evil thing to bring them out of their own Heathenish Country, [to] where they may have the knowledge of the One True God, be Converted and Eternally saved." (Larry Tise 18)

99) Perhaps more than any other medium of artistic expression, cinema cannot get rid of its state as a commodity; the commercial success it achieves pushes it on to vertiginous development. It has become a complex and costly industry and it has had to invent all kinds of formulae and recipes in order that the show it offers pleases the broadest public; huge audiences are what cinema depends on for its very survival. (Tomas Gutierrez Alea 111)

100) I was struck by the laughter from the first slave during the washing of feet. This truly carnivalesque moment turns the act of piety into a mockery. As Bakhtin tells us, laughter is equalizing -- it lowers because it is centered on the lower bodily stratum (the stomach, buttocks, and genitals), and laughter is also the voice of the marketplace not the official voice of the monarchy. Laughter also tends to reverse roles, making a king a fool and a fool a king. In this scene the Count’s sham attempt at humbling himself actually turns into a moment of true lowering. It isn’t the pious action that changes things, it is the laughter. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)

101) The film exposes the Count’s interest above all in the success of his plantation and therefore in the oppressive structures of slavery. Though he portrays himself as “suffering” and humiliates himself in washing the feet of and eating with those less powerful than he, as soon as the Count feels he has completed his obligation of piety, he is back to the business of the plantation, wanting blissfully not to know the details of its cruelties. Ultimately, he perpetuates and escalates cycles of violence rather than interrupting them, refusing to pay them back. The Count’s piety is superficial, not life-transformative. (Holly Joan Toensing)

102) Often did I think many of the inhabitants of the deep much more happy than myself. I envied them the freedom they enjoyed, and as often wished I could change my condition for theirs. Every circumstance I met with, served only to render my state more painful, and heightened my apprehensions, and my opinion of the cruelty of the whites. (Olaudah Equiano, Narrative 119)

103) The case of old Pascual is revealing. He exemplifies the chasm that exists between formal and substantive rights. Yes, Pascual has the formal right of freedom granted by the Count, but he lacks the substantive rights of education and material resources to give that freedom any real meaning. (Paul Schroeder 84)

104) The scene of the “last supper” is a strange mirror of Leonardo’s Last Supper. It also seems a reference to Bunuel’s Viridiana, where beggars and thugs pose for a picture of the last supper. Although Bunuel’s recreation is an intentional mockery, I am not sure which is more blasphemous. This is also a very carnivalesque scene, in which the Count is Christ, but his image is more Satanic in a kind of feast of the damned. The devouring of flesh, excessive drinking, laughter and mingling of royalty and slave are all prime examples of carnival revelry. All of these things break down social barriers as well as barriers that withhold the truth. Carnival is actually a process of unveiling and unmasking the truth. Here the Count drops his guard and reveals many things about his life, yet he never really seems to leave the pulpit. He listens, but he claws after the last word. It isn’t until he falls asleep that he truly takes a lower position and the dialogue shifts to his slaves. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)

105) [The films of Gutiérrez Alea] correspond closely to the key periods of what might be termed moments of crisis, and play an important role in responding to -- and shaping -- issues that were at the forefront of political and public debates at the time. (David Wood 513)

106) From a Black viewpoint, The Last Supper re-creates the Passion of the Christ, with the suffering bondmen now in the Christ-role, to be figuratively and literally crucified by the Christian Slave-holding class, personified by the count. The last supper constitutes the slave's final meal before their persecution and death. (Dennis West 129)

107) After Manuel leaves the church his discussion with Don Gaspar makes reference to Santo Domingo, the Spanish name for Haiti. Don Gaspar’s fear of revolution seems to be a reference to some of the white purges that took place in the later part of the Haitian revolution. Most of those occur after 1800, under the dictatorship of Dessalines. Although, I believe there were rumors of such things happening in the 1790s. Nonetheless, Haiti is an important reference point where slave insurrection is concerned. (Edward Tabor, Lehigh University)

108) In general, the African slaves resemble Mark’s Christ not when they passively endure but when they actively resist their oppression and perform acts that may help to free others even if it might bring their own deaths. Sebastian seems to embody most clearly the freedom that Mark’s Christ lives and dies for. As one of two slaves who spring an attack on Don Manuel and place him in the stockades, we can view Sebastian as participant in an act that places his own life at risk to help liberate others. But ultimately, it is Sebastian’s desire for his own freedom, not that of others, that drives him. Even this drive is mixed with a desire for revenge, for before he escapes, he kills Don Manuel in the stockades with a machete. Violence is paid back with violence. (Holly Joan Toensing)