In this installment of P.B.U. Journal, we take a look at the Walter Mercado documentary, Puerto Rican Superheroes, an exhibition of contemporary comic book art, film chroniclers of New York City underground music scene –Urbano Street–and other cultural happenings this week in the Post Barrio Universe.
Walter Mercado: Mucho Mucho Amor
Social media is abuzz with the documentary on Walter Mercado, Mucho Mucho Amor. The doc has received positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. There is talk about making a biopic. It caused a stir when Mercado suggested Timothee Chalamet play him in the biopic. And has focused attention on Mercado’s former manager, Bill Bakula, as the villain of the narrative.
I’ve never followed the late International Super Star. I’m not into astrology, but I understand his magnetism and star quality. His impact on every Latinx community is undeniable. Growing up in a Latinx home, I grew accustomed to the world stopping when Walter came on. When he was on, the entire household fixated on what he was wearing, his jewelry, and every word he spoke.
The film raises important issues. The filmmakers probe Mercado’s decision to never discuss his sexual identity. It’s clear that during the period he lived coming out would have destroyed his career. That, in turn, makes this viewer wonder how Mercado could be closeted his entire life and still become an iconic hero to many LGBTQ. That includes Millennials, whose retro obsessions have elevated Mercado’s fame to a new level. The vulnerability of artists under unscrupulous managers is another issue that the film brings up. The saddest part of the film focuses on how Bakula made Mercado sign a contract that gave away all his rights to his brand, including his name.
From all accounts, what really made Mercado stand out was his genuine compassion and positivity. He had a calming affect on viewers and made each one feel special. Some would claim this was Mercado’s spirituality connecting with Latinx communities across the globe. However, you can also make the case that it was escapism of the worst kind. The new opiate of the masses. In an interview with CBS Miami, Cristina Constantini, who co-directed the documentary with Kareem Tabsch, said that today we could use more of Mercado’s positive energy. Watching the daily newscasts, reading the fanatical tweets from 45, perhaps she has a point.
Puerto Rican Superheroes, The Color of Power, and Other Museum Happenings
Walter Mercado often wore a cape on stage, making Karol Karol, one of the interviewees in the doc, quip that he was like a superhero. If you’re interested in the comic book variety, you might want to check out this piece in Centro Voices E-Magazine. “Puerto Rican Superheroes You Need to Know” has an informative list of Boricua heroes who have appeared in top comics. The list of 18 runs from Señor Muerte and White Tiger, who appeared in 1973 (!) and 1975, respectively, to the recent Spiderman, Miles Morales. While you’re on the website, take a look at Judith Escalona’s seminal essay on the history of Nuyorican Cinema.
Although museums are still not open, most have found innovative ways to show their exhibitions virtually. Continuing the Superhero theme, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) has a wonderful virtual exhibit titled “The Color of Power: Heroes, Sheroes and Their Creators.” The exhibit features seven super talented comic book artists who create “stories that celebrate the beauty and rich heritage of the African Diaspora.” Check out the virtual talk on the exhibit with curator and contributing artist, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, and fellow artist, Afua Richardson. While you’re at it, just check out the rest of their virtual talks and past events. CCCADI has done a tremendous job of transitioning their museum offerings online.
Over at El Museo del Barrio, you can access the catalogues of their past galleries (going back to 1973) in their archives. For scholars and art lovers alike, this is a treasure trove.
Remezcla is one of the freshest, most engaging Latinx websites online. In their latest edition, they have a piece by Jessica Lipsky on Urbano Street. Urbano Street is a film and media project determined to “document underground musicians…in their natural habitat—a gritty, warm and super evocative city.” Its creators are two Colombian immigrants, Diana Hernandez and Lucho Parra. This is an enjoyable read that speaks to the vitality and diversity of music in New York City. It also highlights the obstacles that these musicians face in the increasingly banal commercial music scene.