The 96-minute documentary, available to stream on Netflix, tells the touching story of a Puerto Rican boy born in 1932 who was different during a time when fitting in was the norm. He grew up working in theater as an actor and dancer and eventually became a household name in Latino homes. He was known as the man who would talk about horoscopes and astrology and make you feel better after a long day.
At the end of each show, he’d wish his viewers well by signing off, saying, "Paz, mucha paz, pero sobre todo, mucho, mucho, mucho amor." Meaning, “I wish you peace, lots of peace, but more than anything, lots and lots of love.”
O Cinema cofounder Kareem Tabsch codirected and coproduced the film along with Milwaukee-born Cristina Costantini and producer Alex Fumero, who was raised in Miami but is currently based in Los Angeles.
This is the first Emmy nomination for Tabsch and Fumero and the third nomination for Costantini, a former journalist.
When New Times spoke to the filmmakers this week, the trio was still reveling in the outpouring of support from friends, family, and fans online.
“It’s thrilling to be nominated,” Tabsch says. “What makes the moment special for us more than anything is that this story is getting recognition from our peers. When you go into a project, you don’t go in thinking you’re going to get awards and praise. We did this because of our love of Walter [Mercado], our love for our community, because of our love of our abuelitas.”
Although the documentary was shot mainly in Mercado’s home in Puerto Rico, Miami remains an integral part of the story since the late astrologer once called it home himself.
“Miami played such an important role in Walter’s life,” says Tabsch, adding, “we’re particularly grateful for Miami.”
The Emmy nominations were announced early Tuesday morning, and Tabsch was the first to discover the news. He quickly sent a text in a group chat with his fellow filmmakers — and just as quickly, Costantini was FaceTiming Tabsch while running with excitement all over her home on the West Coast. The buzz of his phone awoke Fumero to the news.
“The coolest part for me is seeing people who we don’t even know post about our Emmy nom," Fumero says with a laugh.
“The effect this film has had on Latinos is so moving,” continues Fumero. “It’d be great to have a gold-plated statue, but it’s the best feeling to see how this movie has touched so many people — Latinos and non-Latinos — and continues to inspire even a year after its release.”
The film was screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it was picked up for distribution by Netflix and later released that summer.
The filmmakers used to joke among themselves that the Latino community had kept Mercado all to themselves for far too long that it was about time to share his story — and his brilliance — with non-Latinos.
“Walter is one of those few cultural touchstones that we all share, and it’s kind of bizarre that no one had made this movie before," Fumero says. "We hope that this [nomination], more than anything, leads to more Latino filmmakers getting a shot.”
“There are so few Latino stories out there being told, and yet there are so many Latinos in this country that it means a lot to be able to be a part of creating our own story and sharing our community’s story,” Costantini adds. “It means something to a lot of Latinos to see this childhood icon of ours finally getting his due.”
Up next for the filmmaking trio is more stories about Latinos — and non-Latinos. Each filmmaker is working on projects both individually and together.
“I think we’ll all work together in different formations forever and be in each other’s lives forever,” Constantini says with a warm laugh.
The News and Documentary Emmys will screen on Monday, September 28, and Tuesday, September 29. Stream the ceremony online at watch.theemmys.tv.