It is perhaps impossible to capture what an enigmatic figure like Walter Mercado has meant to the millions around the world who watched him on TV. But Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch’s heartfelt tribute that just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Mucho Mucho Amor, does an impeccable job of introducing the famous astrologer to those who never knew him, along with celebrating his story with those who watched him long enough to consider him a distant relative.
Even growing up in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Mercado showed signs of being different. He preferred the arts over farmwork, acting over labor. As a young boy, neighbors thought he had special powers, and soon they would not be the only ones. During his early years as an actor, Mercado was invited to promote one of his shows on a local TV station in the 1960s. However, instead of the usual promo spot, a producer suggested that he share his interest in astrology and do a round of horoscopes. The segment proved to be so popular that Mercado was hired on the spot to deliver daily horoscopes, and his popularity grew until his predictions were watched throughout the Americas and abroad, to places like England and Holland, reaching 120 million people at the peak of his popularity.
Mercado was beloved for not merely running through the 12 signs, but performing dramatic readings that thrilled audiences. He wore resplendent capes adorned in crystals and pearls. His sets were mystical, covered with fog or shawls, or looking as if he was sitting among the stars or in ancient castles. Mucho Mucho Amor explores the creation of this persona, like how he used his dance training to catch his audience’s attention and how his show changed over time.
Mucho Mucho Amor features extensive interviews with Mercado’s nieces, his watchful and witty assistant Willie, former colleagues like fellow Univision afternoon staple Raúl De Molina, fans like Lin-Manuel Miranda, and many others. Together they create a richer portrait of both the man behind the cape and his legacy. He spent his life dodging questions about his sexuality, yet he embraced androgyny and opulence, and was beloved for it even in a time when homophobia was more pronounced. He freely mixed elements of almost every religion he could learn about into his version of astrology, from Buddhism to Santería. It’s a thorough look at one of TV’s most charismatic performers (in any language).
Throughout the film’s two-year production, Mercado remains a consummate performer, flirting and voguing for the camera and always ready with a quippy answer. Mucho Mucho Amor even has its own sense of humor, reveling in some of the stranger footage of old horoscope readings or ruminating on the many, many portraits of himself which Mercado kept around his home. After he coyly brushes off a question about his sexuality, the camera wanders around his house, noting framed photos of Oscar Wilde, paintings of male figures, and many books about LGBTQ topics, making its own visual conjecture. Still, made as it was as Mercado’s health declined, this is perhaps the first time many of his viewers will see the usually regal figure in such a vulnerable state; it’s like seeing your grandparent in the hospital for the first time. But because it seems like his optimism never fails, the spirit of the documentary never lags.
There are plenty of documentaries that profile famous people, but few ever feel like a celebration. Mucho Mucho Amor captures that joyful nostalgic rush his fans may feel when someone mentions his name or shares a memory of when they used to watch him. It’s a feeling that goes beyond admiration, and it looks a lot like when Lin-Manuel Miranda is almost brought to tears meeting his childhood hero. When I recommend this movie to friends, colleagues, or strangers, it feels like I’m sharing a piece of my childhood, a slice of my culture. It carries a surprising amount of emotional weight, despite its very unserious subject. Yet I can’t wait until I can share this movie with everyone else in my family and beyond.
Mucho Mucho Amor premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It has been acquired by Netflix and will receive a wide release this summer.