Growing up I distinctly remember watching Spanish news program “Primer Impacto” with my family, and a silence falling across the room when the show moved onto the daily segment with Walter Mercado, the mystical astrologer and psychic who wore elaborate capes and instilled hope and love into his words as he spoke to audiences around the world.
Mercado’s 50+ year career quieted down after he vanished off the airwaves in 2006. Why? Well if one cared enough, a bit of research and keeping tabs on Spanish language celebrity news would find that a legal hang up with his once trusted manager destroyed his career – it would take years to regain ownership of his own identity and his very name.
But I like many in the mid 2000’s went on with our lives with the memory of this man drifting into the long-term storage of our minds.
For Netflix’s new documentary “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado”, filmmakers Cristina Costantini, Kareem Tabsch and Alex Fumero, millennial fans of Mercado, chronicle the amazing trajectory his life took; from being a rural boy in Puerto Rico to being in view of millions of adoring fans hankering for a piece of positivity from the astronomer with the jewel encrusted capes.
Up until his death in November of 2019, Mercado lived a quiet life in Puerto Rico, surrounded by his loved ones. Even so, he yearned to be back in front of his fans.
“Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” will put him back in front of those fans that loved him and introduce him to those that are new to this androgynous icon, through his own words and of those who knew him best.
The following is the filmmakers recounting their journey in trying to capture the essence and marvel that was Walter Mercado, and the relationships they formed with him at the end of his life.
“Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” is now streaming.
I wanted to start off by asking what prompted the three of you to come together and make this film? Where did that inspiration to focus on Walter Mercado come from?
Alex Fumero: We all grew up watching Walter with our grandparents, who would, you know, hush us vehemently whenever Walter would come on the TV. And so, it kind of left this lasting impression. And then as we got older, we sort of realized, like, what an unlikely hero he is in the Latin world, you know, because of his identity and his gender fluidity before that was a thing.
And when I met Kareem for the first time, the first thing we talked about was Walter and Kareem was going to an estate sale where Walter was selling some of his capes, and I said, “someone should do a documentary on him.” And he said, “well, yeah, that’s why I’m going. I mean, I’m going to buy capes, but I’m also going to see if I can meet someone from the family.”
And when he and I set time to talk about who he had met, half an hour before that call, Christina called me and said, “hey, I heard you’re obsessed with Walter Mercado. I want to make a movie about him.” She and I had been colleagues at Fusion prior to that, and so I said, “this is weird. But, you know, I have this call in 30 minutes…maybe we should all do this together.” And the rest is history.
I was wondering if Walter ever outright acknowledged or stated that he was aware of this status as a hero or positive icon in the LGBTQ community?
Kareem: Yeah, I think he was definitely aware of the influence he had on the queer community. In the events in Miami in particular, there’s a large LGBTQ presence that actually spoke with him and told them how much he meant to them and what an inspiration he was.
So, he was he was well aware of it. Walter kind of knew his reach. He didn’t necessarily talk about himself always in that sense of being such an influence and a pioneer on people, but he definitely was aware of it.
What was it like trying to pitch the idea of this documentary to Walter Mercado and his family?
Cristina: Well, after Kareem got in touch with Walter’s family, we set up a call and we were very nervous for the call because, you know, he’s an icon for us. We grew up with him, we adore him. And so, we had practiced kind of every possible outcome and every possible question he might ask us. We prepared really hard, and the first question he asked us was what our astrological signs were!
I don’t know why we didn’t see it coming, but it was the funniest job interview we’ve ever had. I’m a Libra, Kareem is a Libra, and Alex is a Sagittarius, and [Walter] ended up liking that answer, and basically said that he was interested on the call.
It was it was a real learning process for everybody. I think he said yes to the documentary, didn’t quite understand what the documentary was. He like wanted to plan the whole thing, which is not really how a documentary works, I remember he would go, “And action!” and we would have been filming for 20 minutes already.
But he was just so lovely to work with. He was so much fun and so funny, and I think we laughed every day, very hard. He loved making people laugh. It was a real privilege.
Kareem: Yeah, I mean, you know, Walter was just kind of this childhood icon that was on the television every day, and so he kind of just like existed in the box, you know. So, when you first meet him and see him in person, he’s this larger than life figure who’s been in your life as long as you can remember it.
And so, getting to know him was interesting because, again, he’s iconic. He’s like a magician, he feels like otherworldly. And then you realize that he’s a normal person and he’s not that terribly different from the character you see on TV when the lights are off – he’s still kind of over the top and wonderful and larger than life.
I think one of the interesting things for us is that we were able to build a relationship with him during that period, the 2+ years that we worked on the documentary.
He went from being, you know, kind of like “our Big Bird”, to being like our fabulous aunt or uncle. And we were with him at the very end of his life, which is, remarkable as people that had that privilege of [spending] two years with him.
When you first started working on this, what was the angle of trying to tell his story and figure out where Walter had been since he went off the air? After he passed away how did it affect the overall story you were trying to tell?
Cristina: You know, I think we really wanted to preserve the legacy of this icon. I think he means a lot to the Latino world and nobody had told the story. I think we were all kind of shocked that history was not there because he’s such a larger than life character. He is an amazing character arc, and we were all kind of shocked.
I think the depiction of our culture on television is very boring. Oftentimes, it has to do with drug dealers and sometimes it’s the depiction of, you know, immigration stories. But he really adds nuance and complexity to the story of the Latino experience, and I think we wanted to have another kind of depiction of our stories out there.
But initially the story we wanted to tell was a kind of celebration, an exploration of this person. And as we started filming with him, his health started to decline so the story that we were making came from being maybe a comeback story to more of a swan song. The last years of someone’s life, someone coping with the realities of a body aging like we all will have to cope with; what it means to prepare for the end of your life.
I think those are all questions that the film kind of explored that we didn’t know it was going explore from the beginning.
Now my last question, what do you hope viewers take away after watching “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado”?
Kareem: I think that we hope that people will come to this film and realize it doesn’t matter whether you believe in astrology or horoscopes or not, it doesn’t matter if you believe in one religion or any religion at all. Walter’s message ultimately was one of love and peace, regardless what your faith was, regardless of your background. The most important thing was to lead your life and live your life with as much love as possible for your fellow person, for everyone, really, and for yourself.
And so in that you hope that that message that he shared for over 50 years on television comes across in our film and that people walk away realizing that, you know, the keys to a happy and longer life is living it full of love.