THE LAST SUPPER (LA ÚLTIMA CENA) (1976)

Scene Analysis

SLAVERY IN THE BLACK MAN'S WORLD
by
Charlene Aquilina and Marissa Williams

(see film clip)

[1]    “The blacks are crying . . . If you’re not a black slave, you don’t know why.”  This statement is the opening line spoken by a slave while narrating a story at the table of the Last Supper (0:41:45).  Birico is the slave who recounts the story of an event that occurred in his homeland, a story about a son who tricks his father into being sold as a slave.  The initial intentions were for the father to sell his son into slavery in order to receive food for the family, yet the son is too smart for his father and manages to speak first and sell his father.  By doing so he gets food for the family so they can eat for two days.  When the son tells his family where their father is and that “he’s the food,” they are extremely agitated and demand that he be punished by also being sold into slavery.  While both the father and the son believe that they are doing a good deed for their family, they are punished for it.  All at the table greatly enjoy the story and find much humor in it.

[2]    Birico’s story is ironic because it is about a black man selling his father into slavery and the family selling the son into slavery.  By being tolerant of this, the slaves are hypocritical, because they do not think it is right for a white person to sell a black person.  They accept slavery in their own world but not in the white man’s world; the problem is with who enslaves.    Black slaves create much remorse for themselves and have extreme indignation at the whites for buying them as slaves. They all detest being slaves, having no freedom, and constantly being under surveillance by their masters.  These plantation workers feel that their lives are dreadful, and they cannot understand why the white man would want to inflict such utter pain on another.  But in the story selling other persons is beneficial to the black family because they receive food for two family members, just as white people benefit from slavery because blacks are used for all of their fieldwork and farming.  Coincidentally, then, both races used the same method of cruelty to better their own lives.  Under such circumstances, it would seem to the viewer that the slaves are condoning what the black family did, however that is not the case. Birico states at the end of his story “if you’re not a black slave, you don’t know why.”  This leads the viewer to assume that this particular family was not the first to have to sell a family member for food and that it was just another hardship that slavery brought upon them.

[3]    The lighting of this scene relates to the way whites perceive blacks in society.  While telling his story, Birico seems to fade into the darkness of the room.  His features are indistinguishable to the viewer, masking his identity.  The whites feel that black culture is of little significance in comparison to their own.  This is a representation of the blacks’ status in society.  This low status of the blacks in this way of life is the reason why white people feel they should be slaves.  Whites are not ready to see blacks in any other light than slavery.  The whole scene is very dim, almost representative of a church.  The only lighting in the room is that of a few candles in the background.  Due to the candles and the dim lighting, the viewer gets the sense that the dinner is in a more religious setting.  The director creates this setting to enhance the reenactment of the Last Supper.

[4]    Historically, the Last Supper was when Jesus sat down with his twelve disciples.  He knew that it would be the last time they were together because one of them would betray him.  (Click here for images and audio clip on the two Last Suppers.)  The Count was reenacting the Last Supper scene to coax the slaves into not betraying him.  The scene begins with Birico singing, dancing, and laughing around the table.  This seemingly joyous behavior may be a way for him to deal with the horrible treatment of his race.  Birico knows no other way to express himself and his feelings; laughter serves as an outlet for distress.  Selling his people into slavery does not amuse him, but he uses amusement as a method of confronting his sorrow.  The other slaves at the table, as well as the Count, join in this loud laughter at the conclusion of the story.  The blacks understand Birico and his need to make jokes about the hardships of their race; the Count, on the other hand, laughs at the story for different reasons.  His laughter is from a white, slave owner’s perspective -- this view is completely different from that of the slaves.  The Count sees the slaves as dehumanized, comic figures.  He only sees the surface of the laughing and dancing because he can’t see the underlying meaning of the story.

[5]    The Count never experienced being a slave and therefore cannot understand the moral of the story.  His laughter adds to the superficiality of the whole Last Supper scene.  The director of the movie filmed this whole scene leaving the Count out of most of it.  Until the end, where the viewer sees the Count laughing and clapping his hands,  only the black slaves are on screen.  But even though he isn’t visible throughout the scene, the Count still has control over the slaves.  It might seem as if he shouldn’t have control, but, in reality, they are his slaves under his ownership, and he is allowing them to sit at his table.  Through this scene the viewer gets the sense that the omission of the Count, not his presence, is what shows the dominant hand in whites selling blacks.  The white man doesn’t always have to be "there" for the slavery to occur and for its effects to ripple through the plantation.

[6]    The reenactment of the Last Supper did not convince the slaves to act as they should for the Overseer and the Count.  In its entirety the scene represents the attitude and feelings of both the black and white man.  Though both races participate in a form of slave trading, the blacks display more resentment towards the white man for his actions.  The white slave owner cannot possibly know what these slaves are enduring.  As a result of the white man’s actions, the blacks are confronted with agony, torture, and suffering.  This scene is representative of both races' participation in slave trade and how different it can be.
 
 

Copyright (c) 2001  by Charlene Aquilina and Marissa Williams, Undergraduates at Lehigh University.

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