“After decades of living as an otherworldly figure, filmmakers Cristina Constantini and Kareem Tabsh bring Walter Mercado back to Earth.”
“Walter Mercado is a force of nature” a declaration made by the Puerto Rican astrologist himself. Adorned in gaudy jewellery and extravagant capes to match his mystical affectation, we are inclined to believe him. At 87 years old, Mercado exudes the same cosmic magnetism that has endeared Latin American audiences to his shows for decades.
The Netflix documentary Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado attempts to summarize the legendary career of the Latinx icon. For the uninitiated, Walter Mercado was a television personality that captured the attention of millions of abuelitas with his mystical appearance and daily horoscope readings. His programs were a staple of Latinx households, inviting the whole family to gather around the TV waiting to hear your sign. Up until his death in November of 2019, Mercado had been a unifying force across the diaspora. Since the 1970s, Mercado brought together different generations from all across Latin America to marvel at his witchcraft. For millennials and elder gen Z who grew up with his fabulous appearance and bewitching way of speaking, Mercado was larger than life. He instantly drew you into his orbit, sharing uplifting proclamations for each zodiac sign dripping in his signature opulence and camp. Always preaching positivity and love, ending every show with his signoff of “mucho mucho amor.” He instilled in people a daily dose of optimism, celebrating the beauty of being alive. With Mercado, the stars aligned, and we were granted a glimpse of divinity on Earth. He mixed principles from different religions – Catholicism, Santería, Buddhism – in a practice of religious syncretism common to Latin American belief systems. With his sublime persona and enchanting predictions, Mercado was canonized as a fixture in Latinx culture.
Despite how ingrained Mercado’s legacy feels as a part of La Cultura, the fact that this androgynous, asexual, ageless psychic broke out into the mainstream when he did was an enormous feat. The culture of machismo and homophobia prevalent in Latinx media at that time (and even now) made Mercado’s brand of extravagance and opulence a taboo. Mercado was a pioneer in breaking gender rules and refusing to be defined by heteronormativity. When asked directly about his sexuality by interviewers, he playfully dances around the question claiming, “I have sexuality with the wind”. The more that we see of Mercado’s interior life in Mucho Mucho Amor, the more we learn how in control he was of his narrative. His performance and appearance were deliberate in their mysticism. Mercado, always hyper-aware of his public image, used the showier aspects of his persona to deliver his message. His colorful capes and general extravagance brought eyes to the screen, but his genuine conviction had viewers clinging to every word.
After decades of living as an otherworldly figure, filmmakers Cristina Constantini and Kareem Tabsh bring Walter Mercado back to Earth. Before his death in 2019, Walter Mercado had all but disappeared from the spotlight. We learn that this absence was the result of a predatory contract that gave the rights of Mercado’s name and image to his former manager Bill Bakula. After signing in ignorance and losing all control of his name and brand, Mercado takes Bakula to court in a dramatic six-year legal battle. Eventually, Mercado regains the right to his name, but by then the dispute had not only damaged Mercado’s career but taken a toll on his health.
The biggest conflict of Mucho Mucho Amor is not from Mercado’s fight with Bill Bakula but from Mercado’s fraught battle with time. For years Walter Mercado occupied a space between the mortal and the divine. For those of us with childhood memories of seeing him on our grandmother’s television, he was larger than life. To be behind the curtain and bear witness as he prepares himself for the camera is to see Mercado for the first time as unceremoniously human. In preparation for his first public appearance in many years, Mercado strives to project fabulousness; refusing to be hindered by age, illness, or weakness despite declining health and concerns from family. As audience members, we are confronted with Mercado’s mortality alongside him. For a moment he is not an otherworldly being. He is a beautifully decorated human with a magical ability to fill people’s lives with hope and love. But not even time can quell Mercado’s spirit. Through it all, he retains his humor and lightness. When faced with mortality Mercado proclaims “My spirit and my message is going to be eternal.”
Mucho Mucho Amor culminates in Mercado’s first public appearance in more than a decade, a celebration of his legacy and 50-year career in an exhibit for the HistoryMiami Museum. Hundreds attend, eager to bask in the radiant energy of the beloved cultural icon. To see him received by his people, and the life that it fills him with, beautifully exemplifies his cosmic superstardom. It’s synergy: the care and love Mercado has for his audience, and their respective admiration for the tender-hearted astrologer.
Mucho Mucho Amor is a touching send-off for one of the most dazzling pop cultural icons to ever grace our television screens. He broke every rule, transcended time and space, and cemented himself in the Latinx cultural canon. Although no longer physically among us, Mercado’s spirit lives on in the earnestness of his message. Walter Mercado is eternal, his memory rekindled by whatever celestial power that reminds us to have faith and live always with amor.
Director: Cristina Constantini, Kareem Tabsh
Producer: Alex Fumero
Cast: Walter Mercado
Release Date: July 8th 2020
Available on: Netflix