MOVIE REVIEW: MUCHO MUCHO AMOR is a nostalgic lookback at the life and times of a Hispanic cultural hero


Walter Mercado was one of the most well-known Hispanic television icons of the 1990s; a fabulous caped nonbinary genderqueer astrologer beloved by millions despite the social mores of the culture. This documentary by Cristina Costantini (Science Fair) and Kareem Tabsch (The Last Resort) examines the phenomenon that Mercado was and his enduring legacy.

Growing up as a young Cuban/Mexican-American child in the 1990s, I spent a lot of time on the weekends with my Cuban aunt and uncle in Southern California. I remember watching television shows like Sabado Gigante, an insanely popular variety show that was one part Johnny Carson and one part The Price is Right, or Cristina, a daily Cuban talk show that was one part Sally Jessy Raphael, one part Ellen. TV shows on channels like Univision or Telemundo aimed at Hispanics aren’t really like TV shows on English networks. Spanish shows are designed to insinuate themselves into your daily life. You don’t go out on Saturdays, you stay home and watch Sabado Gigante. You watch Cristina so you can learn more about actors on telenovelas and those are the nightly soaps you watch every night. It’s a cultural thing. One of the shows we watched before dinner was called Primer Impacto, think of a cross between TMZ/Entertainment Tonight with a touch of shock journalism thrown in and you get the idea. It was expected to see news about a soap opera star like Lucero, alongside a story about chupacabras or the Mummies of Guanajuato. But at about 45 minutes in, you’d get a segment featuring a cloaked man covered in makeup sitting on a throne floating in CGI space, oftentimes with a sword or flames bursting around him, who would shout your horoscope at you like it was a command from which you could not deviate. This flashy astrologer superhero was Walter Mercado, a Puerto Rican seer who became a phenomenon across the Latin-American diaspora of Mexico, Cuba, South America, and the United States. A figure known to millions, Mercado disappeared from the public eye in the mid-2000s. Mucho Mucho Amor, a new documentary by Cristina Costantini (Science Fair) and Kareem Tabsch (The Last Resort) debuting on Netflix on July 8th, traces the influence of Mercado on popular culture and answers the question of what happened to him?

Costantini and Tabsch follow the trail of Mercado to his hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico, where they discover the mercurial Mercado, still alive and living in his fortress-like mansion with his nieces and his personal assistant, Willie. They trace the start of his career, from a young boy who gained local fame in Puerto Rico by bringing a dead bird to life and becoming known as Walter of Miracles, to becoming a star of telenovelas and how his eccentric genderbending style led to his getting an astrology show on Univision in the late 1960s. From there, it traces his impact through the decades and the start of his relationship with Bill Buckley, his former manager who brought his fame to his greatest heights in the 1990s, only for their relationship to become what ultimately led to Walter falling out of the public eye. Along the way, we get to see the impact Mercado had on Hispanic and LatinX culture, as figures as diverse as comedian Eugenio Derbez and Lin-Manuel Miranda as well Univision’s Raul “El Gordo” De Molina, host of the most popular Hispanic talk show in the world, sing his praises and speak to how uniquely Latin it is that a figure like Mercado could’ve become such an icon as there are no traditionally Western media equivalent for a character who is one part psychic superhero/one part Liberace.

Much is made of the point that Mercado never came out and refuses to speak about his relationships or sexuality, especially given the unlikeliness of his fame and its paradoxical nature in Hispanic culture. This is a culture where men are beaten in the streets and children often disowned for being gay, but flamboyant drag-queen-like “Exoticos” are heroes in lucha libre, and Mercado became an icon to women and men alike. The argument is made that by staying quiet Mercado was able to build a platform that would’ve otherwise been cut off to him, much like Liberace in America. We see the effects of his fame as it transcends generations and we see influencers say that Mercado was ahead of his time. As one interviewee puts it, “if a 20 year today started an Instagram account where he read your signs and was non-binary and asexual, he’d be the biggest thing on social media.”

MUCHO MUCHO AMOR celebrates the legacy of Mercado and makes an attempt to showcase an aspect of Hispanic culture that may be alien to many Americans watching Mercado for the first time. But Mercado’s message of spreading peace and love with no judgment resonates across time. One part Bowie, and one part sweet abuelita, you may find yourself looking up some of Mercado’s old horoscopes after watching this documentary that shows why he’s a legend to so many in the Latin community and a touchstone to their past.