The Last Supper

T.G. Alea’s film The Last Supper delivers through its account of the Count and the sugarmaster an insightful representation of Cuban slavery. Manuel Fraginals in his chapter "Hands for Sale" of his book The Sugarmill explains the reality of the sugar industry and slave trade within Cuba. Fraginals begins by explaining how the slave trade is essentially a capitalist phenomenon and shows that free labor over much of the world actually lived worse. Fraginals uniquely positions the Irish immigrant worker as the most miserable oppressed class of workers within Great Britain. To this extent he explains how the economics led to conflict between the producer and the merchant. The producer, or in the case of the film - the Count, was a slaver by necessity and not for profit due to the labor shortage. The merchant was emerging with increasing power and developing his trade more as an artisan than as economist. At the end of the chapter sugarmasters are depicted as this kind of artisan yet under constant and increasing abuse by producers until ultimately vacuum pans saw his occupational demise.

The actions of the Count in Last Supper seem consistent with the strategy of the "producer" described by Fraginals. The Chanan article mentions that he as a "pious Christian ... brings into question the precepts of his religion." This strategy seems to embody what Fraginals calls the ‘ useless moral declamations about Christian doctrine’ and "that slaves be declared glebae adicti, not to be sold even to pay the government." This way would substitute wage slavery for physical slavery and eliminate the specificity of using blacks for cane. This would quell the rising population of blacks. Furthermore, this strategy calls for an emancipation but only in a "gradualist" fashion whereby blacks would not be getting even "forty acres and a mule." The Count is obviously playing out for the audience this kind of insanity.

The Chanan article depicts the sugarmaster as a kind of hero who applies the altruisms of Christianity in a more sincere way as in the metaphor of purgatory for the sugar refining process. Through the strategy described by Fraginals for abolishing slavery, it would seem that the sugar master is a closet William Lloyd Garrison, i.e.: he would favor immediate emancipation for blacks with immediate civil liberties to stave off the kind of rebellion the sugarmaster escaped in St. Domingue. As proof of his altruism, the sugarmaster hides the slave Sebastian from the hunting Count and his house is generously not burned by the slave rebellion.

The slaves themselves are then viewed as initially believing in the promise of the Count and then ultimately only trusting the unconditional respect of the sugarmaster. This holds with the record of how slaves acted from Fraginals. He reports that they slowed work down in protest to the producer class of the count. Fraginals reports that the class of the sugarmaster disappeared with the advent of the vacuum pan; yet through the Chanan mention it is not hard to imagine that our sugarmaster, the "educated Frenchman with a scientific mind" would find his way into printing or media the likes of The Abolitionist.

 


Last Updated on 03/06/00
By JR Kerr
Send Comments to jamesrkerr@yahoo.com

 

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