SXSW 2023: Eva Longoria Defends ‘Flamin’ Hot’ Movie

The new film, Flamin’ Hot, which premieres Saturday in Austin, Texas, tells the story of Richard Montañez, who rose from janitor to executive at Frito-Lay and has long claimed the hugely popular Flamin’ Hot Cheetos – Having invented the taste of spicy snacks.

The film is Eva Longoria’s fictional directorial debut and will stream on Hulu on June 9th. (Watch an exclusive clip from the film below.)

Starring Jesse Garcia as Montañez, the film follows its protagonist from his early days as a petty criminal to his menial job at a Frito-Lay California factory, where he finally makes a fateful phone call to parent company PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico (Tony Shalhoub). Starring Annie Gonzalez as Montañez’s wife, Judy, and starring Dennis Haysbert and Matt Walsh as fellow factory workers, the film is a energetic and vibrant modern-day fable about endurance, confidence, and overcoming adversity.

It was also overshadowed by a Times blockbuster story refuting Montañez’s account of his role in the making of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which was released in 2021 when the film was already in development. Nevertheless, the project went ahead.

“That story never touched us,” Longoria said in a recent phone interview. “I feel like the LA Times has better resources for more important things.

“We never wanted to tell the story of the Cheeto,” she claimed. “We tell the story of Richard Montañez and we tell his truth.”

However, as an investigation of a Frito-Lay company cited in the Times story concluded, “We value Richard’s many contributions to our company, particularly his insights into Hispanic consumers, but we give credit for the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or others.” Flamin’ Hot doesn’t produce products for him.”

In particular, Longoria cited a statement by PepsiCo, released after the story was published by The Times, in which the company responded to public outcry over its initial description of the story as an “urban legend,” as evidence of Montañez’s involvement.

But the statement, while acknowledging Montañez’s other contributions to the company, did not dispute The Times’ coverage, repeating that PepsiCo could not make a “clear connection” between Montañez’s story and the team, whose “zesty product offering” is “on the Market tested” and found [its] Path to durable products on store shelves, including Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.”

When asked for further comment on Longoria’s unsubstantiated claims about Montañez’s version of the story and PepsiCo’s response, a representative from Searchlight Pictures, which produced the film, referred The Times to an interview with Longoria published by People magazine in January and in which she also stated, “We never told the story of the Cheeto.”

Longoria prefers to focus on the indisputable fact of Montañez’s rise through the ranks of the company and his role in developing marketing specifically aimed at Latin American consumers: “His genius was the fact that he knew the Hispanic market and knew how to mobilize it.”

“Richard’s story is our story. We are all Richard Montañez,” she said. “There was a time in our lives when someone said, ‘No, no, no. Ideas don’t come from people like you.” ‘No no no. This job isn’t for someone who looks like you.’ ‘No no no. I don’t think you’re qualified for that.” And so I think we’re all going to relate to his persistence and belief in himself. Like he just said, ‘Why not?’ He dared to ask, ‘But why not me?’”

Jesse Garcia in “Flamin’ Hot”.

(Emily Aragones / Searchlight Pictures)

The project emerged around 2017 when producer DeVon was introduced to Franklin Montañez and committed to bringing his story to the big screen. The project originated at Searchlight with a script draft by Lewis Colick. With dozens of directors vying for the project, Longoria eventually won the job. Writer Linda Yvette Chávez, whose credits include the series Gentefied and the upcoming adaptation of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, has been tasked with revising the script.

Although Longoria is still best known as an actor, most notably on the series Desperate Housewives, Longoria is increasingly active behind the camera as well. After directing several short films, she has also directed episodes of numerous series including Jane the Virgin, Black-ish and Gordita Chronicles and directed the documentary La Guerra Civil, which screens at the Sundance Film Festival premiered in 2022.

For Franklin, Longoria was the clear choice to lead the project.

“The last thing I wanted to do was make a film that doesn’t honor the community we were trying to celebrate,” Franklin said. “And so Eva brought the specificity, the vision, and she also brought a commerciality. Their vision was to make a commercial film that had comedy and heart.”

We never told the story of the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto. We told the story of Richard Montañez.

— Eva Longoria on her directorial debut Flamin’ Hot

Despite knowing she was dealing with more experienced directors when she tried to get the job, Longoria remained convinced she was the best choice for the project.

“I really felt like I was the only person who could tell this story because I’m Chicana, because I come from the Mexican-American community, because I understood the struggles that the family faced and ours faced community is facing,” she said. “As I approached the film, whether it was the cast or the casting, authenticity was my north star. I thought, ‘This is my super power.’ i know this world

“I know we put tapatío on our spaghetti – my dad just does it. The salsa verde is going on this taco,” Longoria said. “And some of those things people might overlook and not really recognize, but the rhythm of the language, the culture of our spices and our food, the way we dress, those things were important.”

A woman in front of the director's camera.

Eva Longoria on the set of Flamin’ Hot.

(Emily Aragones / Searchlight Pictures)

As portrayed in the film, the Mexican-American community has forged a special bond with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos – Longoria included.

“I like to say, this isn’t PepsiCo’s product, this is our product,” Longoria said. “The Hispanic community popularized this product, we made it a pop culture phenomenon. This is our product. It’s not your product.”

Longoria added, “I don’t know if there’s a Mexican who doesn’t eat Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. I didn’t even know regular Cheetos existed. I grew up on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. And one day I bought a bag and I was like, ‘Ugh, these taste weird.’ And they were regular Cheetos. I thought, ‘Are there regular Cheetos?’”

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