Filmmakers Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch, together with producer Alex Fumero, element filming the gender non-conforming astrologer, who after many years of worldwide love vanished from the general public eye.
Puerto Rican astrologist Walter Mercado, who died final yr on Nov. 2, is without doubt one of the most recognizable figures in Latinx tradition — for his horoscope breakdowns, his bedazzled capes, and above all, his unwavering positivity.
The beloved astrologer dazzled his viewers from his early days on Primer Impacto — a Spanish-language information program on Univision — to his inevitable international attain, entertaining thousands and thousands of viewers along with his perception into the celebs in addition to their lives. Nevertheless, after many years of fame and adoring consideration from followers, Mercado’s boisterous persona all of a sudden vanished in 2010.
That disappearance, in addition to solutions as to why so many fell in love along with his character to start with, are the main target of Mucho A lot Amor, a documentary by Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch. The 2, together with producer Alex Fumero, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter concerning the inspiration to inform Mercado’s story, from his early days in rural Puerto Rico to turning into a Latinx genderqueer icon, in addition to the fascinating journey to seek out the person, the parable, the legend himself and acquire his belief to inform his extravagant story.
A lot Mucho Amor is at present streaming on Netflix.
What are your early recollections of Walter Mercado? Did all of you watch him rising up?
CRISTINA CONSTANTINI Walter was a part of our childhood. I believe all of us don’t bear in mind a time when Walter didn’t exist. Our recollections of being at our grandmother’s homes, recollections of our childhood are intimately tied to Walter. Once we take into consideration Walter, we consider these moments once we had been on the sofa with our grandmothers, sitting on faux linoleum flooring of their homes. It’s actually synonymous with the love that we have now for our grandmothers and grandfathers and our households, and our childhood typically. The closest that we evaluate it for non-Latino folks is sort of a Mr. Rogers character or Oprah, however he’s dressed like Liberace.
ALEX FUMERO Yeah. I’d say that Latino youngsters have a quite common story. You can not make a sound when this man was on TV. There may very well be bedlam happening through the information program. However as quickly because it turns to the astrological forecast, it was like you would hear a pin drop and everybody wanted to give attention to Walter.
KAREEM TABSCH That shared experiences is de facto sort of what introduced us collectively to make the movie. The truth that we had been all somewhere else and occasions. I grew up in Miami, and so did Alex, and Cristina grew up in Wisconsin. The truth that we had the very same experiences somewhere else simply sort of resonated by way of all of us and introduced us collectively to make the movie.
How did you all join and the mission initially start?
FUMERO The mission got here collectively considerably cosmically. The three of us really had curiosity in doing a mission on Walter for a very long time. I met Kareem on the time Walter was having an property sale in Miami the place he was promoting a bunch of capes, which in Miami is a giant deal as a result of Walter was a giant presence. I requested Kareem, ‘How has nobody achieved a documentary about Walter Mercado?’ I’d love to do this. I dig Kareem’s motion pictures clearly and he offers with archival data in terrific methods. I mentioned to him, ‘You need to do this.’ He’s like, ‘Effectively, I’m going to attempt to purchase a cape, however I’m additionally going to attempt to see if I could make contact with the household.’ He makes contact with one among Walter’s nieces and texts me and says, ‘Let’s arrange a time to debate.’ So we do this. And about 30 minutes earlier than that decision is ready, Cristina known as me and says, ‘Hey, I hear from some mutual mates that you just’re obsessive about Walter Mercado. I need to make a film about it.’ I used to be like, ‘That is very bizarre as a result of I’ve a name in 30 minutes with one other director. However like you may have one fashion, he has one other. However this feels very Walter-y, cosmically designed so possibly we must always do it collectively.’ And the remainder is historical past.
The documentary reveals Walter’s sturdy reference to millennials in addition to adoration for him by the Latinx group whereas being gender nonconforming. In your time researching him, being with him in addition to chatting with household, mates and followers — why do you suppose he was embraced so passionately by these two teams?
CONSTANTINI He was 100 years forward of his time. We discovered archival footage of him from the ’70s and what he was saying was the longer term shouldn’t be going to be female and male. The longer term goes to be one thing within the center. Gender is a assemble. He was clearly a giant fan of astrology. He was very into interfaith faith and discovered the whole lot there may be to find out about religions from world wide. I believe he was instructing us these items from a really younger age manner forward of his time. I believe for millennials, these are all conversations that we’re having proper now. All of my mates are obsessive about astrology. All of my mates, we speak about gender politics on this manner that Walter has been speaking about it for many years. Additionally, he’s simply so visually fascinating and so enjoyable to take a look at. These days, you see Dangerous Bunny through the Tremendous Bowl carrying a rhinestone cape and celebrated for it. Walter was doing it when no one else was doing it.
TABSCH I believe partly it was as a result of Walter was so otherworldly. He was coming into our dwelling and speaking about astrology and horoscopes and completely different perception programs, mixing all of it collectively. He regarded so completely different that he was virtually not of this world. Somebody so alien to us, of indeterminate gender, he sort of received a move. I additionally suppose the truth that his message was so constructive and so inspiring. And the truth that regardless of him being gender nonconforming in his look, he didn’t in a private manner, speak about intercourse or sexuality. So it was sort of this bizarre dichotomy — it was effective so long as he didn’t speak about it. We see that with one other queer Latino icon, Juan Gabriel, who additionally was massively well-known and, for all intents and functions, thought of queer, however by no means actually spoke about it in outward methods. So Walter sort of received this move from our household as a result of he was bringing this constructive message and he can be theatrical about it. He was unabashedly himself and in a manner that nobody else had ever achieved that. Now it’s to not say he was above being ridiculed or being the butt of jokes. As a result of that very a lot did occur. However he was so beloved as a result of I believe his message was so constructive.
How did these early conversations go when it comes to connecting with Walter and him agreeing to the mission?
CONSTANTINI So Kareem tracked down Walter’s niece at his property sale and that’s how we received in contact with him. We organized a telephone name that we had been all actually nervous for as a result of none of it will work if Walter says no. We practiced for a very long time. We wrote out some sort of questions and the way he would possibly reply to them and the way we must always reply them. Once we received on the telephone, his very first query was, he mentioned ‘I’m on this nice mission. However what are your astrological indicators?’ Based mostly on that dialog, [Walter and his family] agreed to allow us to come to Puerto Rico, and to proceed speaking concerning the mission. Even after they agreed to the product, they didn’t fairly perceive what a documentary was. We’d be filming with Walter and he would say, ‘Okay!’ and ‘Motion!’ Then proceed to faux to eat breakfast or learn a e book or no matter it was. Usually in a documentary, you say ‘What would you be doing if I wasn’t right here? Do you thoughts if I simply hang around when you do this?’ However he hasn’t been in entrance of digital camera for years. He wished the whole lot to be a scene and would all the time say, ‘Why would you need to movie me watching TV, that is going to be so boring.’
How did you acquire his belief for him to talk about his life so brazenly? Have been there sure matters that had been troublesome or difficult for him to debate?
TABSCH Apparently sufficient, in all probability probably the most troublesome issues for him to speak about had been his authorized woes. I imply, there have been topics he didn’t like discussing. He didn’t like discussing his age. He’d all the time say he was between 60 and loss of life. He didn’t like discussing what, if any, cosmetic surgery he had. He positively didn’t like dwelling on his sexuality. I believe that really probably the most troublesome factor to get him to reply was speaking about sort of the darker moments in his life, notably round his authorized battles. That was a sore topic as a result of he was an individual who was relentlessly constructive. He didn’t dwell on the detrimental. I believe it was a extremely painful a part of his life. The outstanding factor is that he nonetheless type solely had constructive phrases about his former enterprise supervisor [Bill Bakula]. So, we did should sort of depend on the household to assist him get him to open up a bit extra about that.
FUMERO He didn’t prefer to dwell on struggling. I imply, for instance, the one time he ever kind of copped to struggling was once we introduced up that his household significantly suffered by way of that course of with Invoice. Proper. As soon as we mentioned that, then he was like, ‘Okay, sure, I suffered.’
How did you’re taking the information of Mercado’s loss of life — since you might be each followers of his and in addition filmmakers who targeted on his life and work?
CONSTANTINI I believe for all of us, once we began the mission, he was the icon from our childhood. We additionally weren’t certain if we had been going to love him. We cherished his persona on tv, however you realize, we didn’t know what he was like as an actual particular person. Over the course of these two years, we grew to become very near him and the extra that he allow us to in, the nearer that we received. He sort of grew to become like a bizarre uncle or very fabulous uncle and we cherished him dearly. Once we received the information, it was very troublesome. It was throughout a time when it was very a lot a curler coaster of feelings for all of us. We submitted the movie on November 1, after which we received the information he handed away November 2. We received accepted to Sundance a few weeks later. Then we went down for the funeral. Kareem and Alex had been pallbearers in that funeral. We spent three days straight with the household, with, with Walter within the coffin, and it was a really, very emotional time. Then we received to Sundance and it was actually particular being there. The household got here for that and it felt prefer it was nonetheless a means of mourning. Being there was superb. Being there with out Walter, which was finally our objective, was additionally horrible though we felt he was with us in a sure manner.
TABSCH The essential half to consider too is we did this mission, the primary yr and a half of this mission, with virtually no funds. I imply we had a small $10,000 grant from ArtesMiami [a nonprofit that supports arts in the city]. Everyone deferred funds. And we, you realize, we labored issues out with mates and we had been all dwelling on financial savings with a view to make the movie. We needed to decide in some unspecified time in the future like can we wait till we’re funded or can we simply sort of make it with tinfoil and bubblegum. We went that route as a result of we had been so devoted to the concept we had been going to complete this inside Walter’s lifetime and have the ability to premiere it with Walter there and assist usher in a brand new period for him of recognition.
How troublesome was it getting this mission taken severely?
TABSCH It was actually troublesome. Plenty of that has to do with the truth that it is a Latino icon and we had been Latino filmmakers. Once we had been speaking to people, they didn’t get that. Notably white executives in Hollywood are similar to ‘Crossover motion pictures don’t work. No person knew who this man is,’ no matter us displaying information that about 120 million folks a day had been watching Walter. It’s simply going to talk to the significance of getting Latinos and folks of coloration in positions of energy which are going to champion our tales. That’s the one manner that occurs. [This documentary] very almost didn’t occur.
FUMERO I don’t need to go on one among these like Latino tirades, however the truth stays that that is such an apparent slam dunk. We’re not coming to the desk with like, ‘Oh, there’s this man who’s superb, however you’ve by no means actually heard of him.’ It is a man who reached 120 million folks each day.
To be trustworthy, it’s stunning a documentary about Mercado exists solely now and wasn’t achieved earlier than.
FUMERO The reply to that’s, actually, the individuals who had been sort of naysayers about it had been, I hate to phrase it this fashion, nevertheless it’s like, they had been pure capitalists. They had been really brokers and the enterprise execs. The COOs and CEOs of sure corporations, proper? Like inventive execs, to their credit score, I believe lots of them had been . When it got here right down to backside line financials, these people couldn’t wrap their head round it as a result of it wasn’t apparent. I believe amongst all of those requires Black Lives Matter and all of those people to place your cash the place your mouth is — what meaning primarily is you really should do work. You must do a bit of labor by yourself to determine the way you’re going to promote one thing. It’s so apparent that they’re lazy and never doing their jobs if you carry them one of many largest icons within the historical past of the Latin world they usually inform you crossover movies don’t work… What they’re used to could be very clear spreadsheets in entrance of them the place they’ll simply gather earnings off of that. That’s the place the social justice actions are lastly getting by way of. I’m like, cease making us beg for commercially viable concepts. That is ludicrous. We’re enjoying your recreation and also you’re nonetheless too lazy to see it.
CONSTANTINI There was one occasion the place executives made us go attempt to discover information on simply how many individuals watched Walter. That is like information from the ’70s and all Latin American stations. I used to be like, I don’t suppose they did this for the Mr. Rogers doc. However, you realize, I believe the second that modified for us was once we discovered an organization, which is Netflix, that had a younger, Latino particular person within the room who was in a position to say, yeah, this man’s fucking large.
That’s each unhappy however not stunning, in any respect.
CONSTANTINI However the two locations that we had been speaking to about shopping for this movie had been locations that had Latinos on the head of one thing that knew, actually knew who Walter was. It was a really eye-opening expertise for me, however I believe the excellent news is the answer is simply rent extra of us.
Proper. It’s fairly apparent that having an inclusive and numerous set of resolution makers means extra alternatives for underrepresented teams to be heard and never ignored or dismissed.
FUMERO And likewise, Walter dreamed of crossing over. That was a giant piece of his dream. You see it within the movie once we began speaking about legacy. I believe a part of the explanation that Walter felt his legacy was incomplete was as a result of he by no means received to, kind of, have that last, ‘Do these folks find out about me?’ And people folks are us, proper? I don’t suppose he anticipated the crossover to occur that manner. So with us, he was ready to do this. I believe on the Miami occasion, he noticed that as a result of all of those English dominant Latinos had been flocking to him, kissing his hand and wanting selfies, you realize? And I believe that possibly gave him a bit little bit of permission to let go.
Was he in a position to watch any of the documentary? What did he give it some thought if that’s the case?
CONSTANTINI Yea, about 20 minutes of it. We went again to Puerto Rico, about 5 weeks earlier than he handed away. He noticed about 20 minutes and he cherished it. It was the start of the movie, about his childhood and his time in Puerto Rico and his first astrological studying. He hadn’t seen all of that footage in a really very long time and I believe he cherished it. He was very cute. Kareem and I mentioned goodbye to him. After we mentioned goodbye to him, Willie [Mercado’s assistant] informed us to return again into the room and say goodbye to him once more. I believe Kareem and I each had a way at that time that it is perhaps the final time we see him.
What message do you suppose this documentary affords to those that watch?
CONSTANTINI One which sticks with me is how courageous Walter was, to do what he did when he did it. This concept of being radically your self, of being courageous sufficient to say what you suppose or present who you might be. That caught with me. Walter was expressing his interior self in each manner. So I actually admire that bravery. I believe we stay throughout a time when our flesh pressers are very wanting to remind us of our divisions. They’re very wanting to remind us we’re completely different from each other. And I believe Walter’s message of inclusion is extra essential now than ever. It’s a message that we discovered once we had been younger youngsters and it appeared really easy and so elementary, however I really suppose it’s very arduous to place into observe, to deal with all people with love, to deal with individuals who you don’t agree with with love. Walter was continuously studying. He was continuously studying, to attempt to find out about each sort of tradition and faith on the earth.
TABSCH Walter’s life’s work wasn’t the shtick of carrying the capes and the wigs and make-up and the astrology. Walter’s life’s work was imparting in every one among us who watched him the message that an important factor you are able to do in life was love and be cherished. Give love freely and to obtain it freely. That’s what he did for 50 plus years. You consider your life as coming to an finish. Do you need to know that you just’re all the time going to be remembered for having worn fabulous capes and having one of the best feathered hair? No. Walter’s legacy is that this message of affection. That we must always all love each other with the whole lot we will. I believe one of many beauties of the movie is… that Miami occasion, specifically, and even the way in which the movie is being acquired to this point, is that this expression of give me my flowers after I’m alive. It’s like don’t watch for me to die to offer me flowers, like rejoice me. Walter was in a position to have that. I believe the Miami occasion and the truth that we completed filming, you realize, a day earlier than he died, I believe although he wouldn’t speak about it, it gave a realization that his job was achieved.
This interview has been edited for size and readability.