In a year of pandemic, social unrest, and political polarization, an Oscar-winning documentary came out to lift people’s spirits not just in the United States but around the world.
Mucho Mucho Cupid tells the story of a beloved cultural icon, Walter Mercado, an astrologer who delivered horoscopes on television daily to avid fans in his native Puerto Rico, throughout Latin America and other parts of the world.
“Walter was huge,” says Cristina Costantini, who shot the Netflix documentary with Kareem Tabsch. “One hundred and twenty million people a day watched Walter, which is like a Super Bowl crowd every day. One reason we wanted to make this film is to honor this incredible legacy. “
On its debut in 1969, Mercado stood out for its captivating looks: he blurred gender lines adorned with elaborate capes and jewelry, and his hair was blown into a nimbus of cotton candy.
“He was sexually violated before that was a thing. He mixed astrology with world religions and preached this holistic message of love, faith and hope in a really unique way, ”notes Costantini. “Especially in a homophobic culture, especially in a super-Catholic culture, breaking all these rules and then being loved for it is completely unknown.”
“We’d never seen anyone who looked like Walter … who expressed himself or herself like Walter or talked about the things Walter was talking about,” adds Tabsch. “He was just some kind of that alien character.”
Tabsch (40) and Costantini (30) grew up in Latino families in which Mercado was regularly present.
“We had exactly the same experience ten years apart when we sat in front of the television and watched it with us abuelas“, Tabsch remembers. “It was a quarter to six appointment inspection every afternoon, and Walter had the power to silence an entire Latino household because when you talk you go like a flip-flop on the side of your head. But it was just that Kind of connecting factor in more than a generation. “
Mercados astrological readings had a recognizable pattern.
“If you listen carefully to his horoscopes, you will get few messages. It’s like,” Libra, tomorrow will be a better day. Scorpio, yesterday was tough, but keep going. “And each one was more or less the same for 30 years,” notes Costantini. “It was:” … Things are difficult right now, you could go through a difficult time, but have hope, have love, have faith. “And that’s an incredibly important message.”
The title of the film comes from Mercado’s signing off from his audience, where he always wished them “mucho, mucho amor” (much, much love). The filmmakers admit they had doubts about using a title with Spanish words.
“We said, ‘Are people going to see a movie in Poughkeepsie called? Mucho Mucho Cupidand know what the fuck that is “, Says Tabsch. “We joke that we made this film so that Walter could be seen by a wider audience, but sometimes I say of a whiter Audience because people who didn’t grow up with him and know who he is had this like a joyful discovery of his and so many of them clicked on a movie called Mucho Mucho Cupid and so is this great commentary on our world and our culture. “
Netflix acquired the documentary shortly before its world premiere at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film became a hit on the streaming service when it debuted last July, and confirmed the filmmakers struggling to produce it.
“We weren’t funded. We had maybe a seventh of the budget we needed for this film,” explains Costantini, adding that at some point she met with an agent who stopped her from continuing.
“She said,” Crossover stories don’t really work for us. They’re hard to sell, ”recalls Costantini. “The real problem I saw was that there weren’t enough people in the rooms commissioning documentaries who understood the importance of Walter in our community. I think that speaks for the importance of representation in these rooms. “
When Costantini and Tabsch started filming with Mercado, the astrologer was an active eighty-year-old. But his health began to deteriorate and he died at the age of 87 in November 2019, just a few months before the Sundance premiere. He was a born actor, and as such, it was difficult for the filmmakers to break through the actor’s armor.
“One of my favorite parts of the film,” says Costantini, “we talk about his sexuality and how he identifies and whether he is attracted to men or women or both and he says,” I have sexuality with the wind. I have sexuality with the stars. For me, sexuality is not that physical thing. “And Kareem says,” Okay, but you’re not telling me you are a virgin. “And he stands in front of the camera and says,” The only one in town “Kareem and I laughed so hard.”
It was a challenge to convey to Mercado and his loyal assistant Willy Acosta the idea of a documentary that approached him from a different frame of reference.
“You’d say,” Okay, so we’re going to have breakfast for you this morning and he’ll wear it … “recalls Costantini.” We have to say, “No, no, no.” At the very beginning [of filming] They asked us about the scripts. They say, “When will I get the script for this morning?” The longer we were with them, the more they understood that we were only filming him doing his thing. “
Mercado, aware of his dwindling health, said to the directors, “My spirit and my message will be eternal.”
The filmmakers believe that’s true.
“One hundred percent, one hundred percent,” emphasizes Tabsch. “There will never be a Walter Mercado again. I mean, the magnetism, the power it had to make you feel loved and special … when you watch it you feel good. “