“Reciban de mi siempre mucha paz, pero sobre todo mucho mucho mucho amor” Watching and listening to Walter Mercado’s sign off from his worldwide televised astrology show you’re struck with his genuineness and at the same time with the understanding of our own hunger for that expressiveness and positivity in our current lives. “May you receive from me always, peace, lots of peace, but above all, lots and lots of love.” Walter Mercado was a striking and dazzling figure that for 30 years captivated 120 million Latinx viewers. The entertaining and illuminating documentary “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado,” directed by Cristina Constantini and Kareem Tabsch, is a loving tribute to this bigger than life personality that will manage to convert you into his fan – and delight those already under his spell.
Audiences worldwide would tune in daily for his horoscopes which were delivered quite dramatically – with over the top set pieces – and Walter wearing glittery and fabulous capes, in full make-up. “He has an augmented face that defies gender and maybe even age,” expresses fan Mireya Lucio. “And his hair is a hybrid between really good male hair from the 70’s and really good, glamorous grandma hair.” Walter’s horoscopes never included anything negative – they were full of encouragement and kindness – and that’s what his viewers tuned in for. He gave everyone a much-needed sense of hope. “He made me believe through the force of his oratory,” says fellow Puerto Rican Lin Manuel Miranda who is featured in the documentary. The meeting of these two icons from different generations is one of the many highlights of this heartwarming documentary.
“Mucho Mucho Amor” uncovers the main reason why in the mid-2000s Walter vanished from TV. The filmmakers get access to his former manager Bill Pakula. “Every talent needs somebody behind him,” Bill says in the documentary. “I was the coach for one single purpose: Walter’s message to get out to as many people as possible.” Pakula succeeded in making him the renowned psychic — and got the star to sign a contract in 1995 that gave him total control over to him – owning Walter’s name, image and likeness in perpetuity.
Through archival footage we experience Walter’s ascent. He was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico and from an early age his mother knew there was something special about him. “Everything about me was different. My mother said, ‘If you’re different, go on being different. Don’t worry about that. To be different is a gift. To be ordinary is common. I decided at that time I’m going to fabricate, create a famous person in me. And so I know that that push is going to explode in something important,” says Walter. He studied singing and acting – and became a well-know dancer and acted in telenovelas. Walter was participating in a TV show when another guest didn’t show up – and Mercado used the spot to make astrological predictions.
This is a very enjoyable journey – and the directors move their material swiftly – even interspersing animated sequences. Most poignant are the interviews with the passionate Walter. They gently prod him to answer about his sexuality. “I have sex with life,” he responds without missing a beat. We also meet another endearing character in Willy Acosta, a devoted assistant to Walter. In a resonant moment, the homophobia that Mercado faced is addressed and the fact that he was made fun of by the macho Latino culture. “I don’t care,” he affirms. Walter has become an inspiring hero to the gay community who gets validation by his fabulousness and pride. “Walter was unique. He was different. He was a pioneer,” says a fan.
It’s a very touching film and one that you will find heartwarmingly uplifting. What the world needs now is mucho, mucho amor.
Walter Mercado: “Love is the reason to live.”
Available to stream on Netflix.
Directed by Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch
Starring: Walter Mercado, Willy Acosta, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Raul de Molina, Eugenio Derbez, Betty Benet Mercado, Ivonne Benet Mercado, Nydia Caro and Paloma Morales.
The Story of Walter Mercado
“Walter was one of the first mainstream androgynous Latin American figures and has become an LGBT icon, the Liberace of astrologers. He was also one of the first astrologers since Jeane Dixon to bring the ancient art to modern audiences. Before Marianne Williamson became one of Oprah Winfrey’s favorite things, Mercado offered a spiritual path inspired by a mix of Santeria, Christianity, Buddhism and the rising New Age movement. Born on a sugar plantation in Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 1932, Walter knew he was different before he donned his first cape. He credited his late mother as his spiritual guide, allowing him to read books and study the arts. After a story got around about him breathing life into a dying bird, the people from his town dubbed him “Walter of the miracles.” Mercado began his entertainment career as a dancer on Channel 4, paired with some of the best known dancers on the air, before being cast to act on telenovelas like “Una Sombra” and “La Intrusa”. Walter became an on air astrologer after comedian and producer Elfin Ortiz asked him, at the last minute, to fill in for another actor who missed camera time. Walter, whose reputation preceded him among the crew and dressed in an ornate period costume, improvised zodiac readings for the 15-minute slot and was an immediate hit. Ortiz brought Mercado to Telemundo where he went from being carried on local Puerto Rican channels, to Primer Impacto, Univision’s top news broadcast, which broke him internationally. Starting in the 1990s, El Show de Walter ran on Univision for 15 years. Walter also had a daily radio horoscope show called The Stars and You, wrote a daily horoscope column which ran in “People” Magazine and “El Nuevo Herald” and published a quarterly magazine with aphrodisiac recipes, potions, incantations, predictions and advice. He also wrote seven books, marketed four perfumes, an album of dance songs, a phone network, and the match-making site “Passion Latinos.” (denofgeek.com)
Bringing “Mucho Mucho Amor” to the Screen
“…Mercado’s star began to rise in the 1970s with a 15-minute horoscope spot on Telemundo that quickly snowballed into a full hour. From there, decades of ultra positive television spots, radio shows, talk show appearances, and even a psychic hotline followed. Hundreds of millions of adoring fans around the globe cropped up in response, including Costantini. The filmmaker grew up in Milwaukee watching Mercado on Univision with her grandma — making Mercado one of her few solid cultural “connections” to her Latinx identity in Wisconsin. “For me and for a lot of young Latinos, he was our first encounter with so many ideas that are so important. On top of that, he really filled us with love.” Costantini, whose father is from Argentina, explained. “I had always been fascinated by him: by how he looked, by his jewelry, his capes. I couldn’t tell if he was a man or a woman. He seemed to know the future. For a kid he was endlessly fascinating.” But, Mercado was also a huge draw for Costantini’s grandmother and other older Latinx women like her… “Somebody said it yesterday, that he has his own form of abuelita couture. I love that phrase,” she said, nodding towards Mercado’s fluffy cropped hair, amazing caftans, endless baubles, and well-maintained face. Grandmas couldn’t help but see themselves reflected back in Mercado. “We are a culture that very much likes looking well-groomed and taken care of,” Costantini continued. “I think that is part of his secret to success. Abuelitas love him because many of them deny that he was queer or gay. When they looked at him, they saw a proper, put-together man”. After all, one of the central pillars of Latinx culture is known for its grandeur and asexuality. “Our religious figures, our popes, our priests — they wear very fabulous robes and we celebrate them,” Costantini pointed out about the Catholic church. “Walter used that to his advantage.”
Still, Costantini, co-director Tabsch and producer Alex Fumero didn’t shy away from giving “gay icon” Walter a chance to talk about his sexuality after 50 years of “snotty,” as Costantini said, failed public inquiries into the subject. “Because Walter has been asked hundreds of different ways [about his sexuality], he has a million different very cute responses to that question,” Costantini explained. “In the film you see how he navigates the interviews masterfully and how he makes us all laugh so that he doesn’t have to talk about things in a way that he doesn’t want to talk about them. It was our duty to give him that space.”
The idea of giving Mercado “space” to fully be himself is the ultimate lynchpin of “Mucho Mucho Amor.” (refinery29.com)
The Importance and Impact of Walter Mercado
“Costantini, 31, confirmed she “fought” for this little gem of an exchange to remain in her doc, which she co-directed with fellow Latinx documentarian Kareem Tabsch…”Walter always said it, but it’s true: He was 100 years ahead of his time,”…“He figured out a way through his intelligence and messaging and performative qualities to make a super machismo, homophobic culture that’s super Catholic fall in love with him.”
“Walter, like our culture, is much more complex than people would like him to be,” Costantini explained. “For me, it was important to celebrate the outsiders in our culture and the complexity of our culture. We’re so much more than just narcos and border issues.” That is why, as Costantini considered what lesson she hoped viewers would take away from her film, the conversation came down to amor. The same amor Mercado instilled in her as a child in Milwaukee with her abuela. “If we all take a minute and think about how we can all enact love in our own lives, who we can love more, how we can learn and how we can treat people with empathy, we would all live in a better place,” Costantini said. “I try to practice love in a new and radical way. And it’s hard. We need Walter and we need his message.” (refinery29.com)
About Co-Director Cristina Costantini
“Cristina is an Emmy-nominated director and producer. She is a proud Latina, Wisconsinite, and science fair nerd. She studied at Yale University and has reported and produced for the New Haven Independent, The Huffington Post, ABC News, Univision and Fusion. She speaks English and Spanish and owns a plump pug dog named Harriet. Cristina’s first TV documentary “Pimp City,” was nominated for two Emmys and her reporting on immigration has won awards from GLAAD and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. (freethebid.com) “Her credits include the television programs “The Naked Truth: Death by Fentanyl” (2016) and “Pimp City: A Journey to the Center of the Sex Slave Trade” (2014). She won a duPont Award and has been nominated for two Emmys as a TV producer and journalist. Along with Darren Foster, she co-directed “Science Fair” (Mountainfilm 2018) and “Awakening: After Parkland” (Mountainfilm 2019).” (mountainfilm.org) Her latest film is “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercardo,” which she co-directed with Kareem Tabsch.
About Co-Director Kareem Tabsch
“Kareem Tabsch is the co-founder and co-director of O Cinema, Miami’s largest art house cinema; an Award winning documentary filmmaker and an Arts Advocate who strongly believes in the power of the arts, particularly film, to enrich lives and revitalize communities.
As a documentary filmmaker, Kareem’s works have been included in several prestigious film festivals. His short documentary “Dolphin Lover” which he co-directed with Joey Daoud premiered at Slamdance, and went on to win the Best Short Documentary Prize at the LA Film Fest and garner Honorable Mentions at the Sidewalk Film Festival and IndieGrits Festival. His first short film, “Cherry Pop: The Story of the World’s Fanciest Cat” played prestigious festivals including AFI Docs, DocNYC, Provincetown Film Festival, Miami Film Festival and won Best Short Documentary at Sidewalk Film Festival. His films have garnered international press attention from outlets like Comedy Central, Vice, The NY Post, Cosmopolitan, Jezebel, Bravo and from celebrities including Andy Cohen, Rush Limbaugh, and Howard Stern. In 2013 Kareem was featured in the Miami New Times ‘People Issue’ for his contribution to the cities film culture, he was named a ’20 under 40′ by the Miami Herald’s Business Monday in 2014 and in 2015 was the recipient of the Knight Arts Champion award presented by the Knight Foundation in recognition of O Cinema’s contribution to the cultural vibrancy of Greater Miami. Tabsch has served on the Advisory Committee of the Miami Foundation’s Our Miami initiative, on the National Arts Advisory Committee of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. In 2018 he helped conceptualize the Cinematic Arts Residency at ArtCenter South Florida.” (thelastresortmovie.com) His latest film is “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercardo,” which he co-directed with Cristina Costantini.