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

Premiering Saturday in Austin, Texas, the new film “Flamin’ Hot” tells the story of Richard Montañez, a janitor-turned-Frito-Lay executive who has long claimed to have invented the wildly popular Flamin’ Hot Cheetos flavor. spicy snacks. .

The film is Eva Longoria’s fantasy directorial debut and will begin streaming June 9 on Hulu. (See 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 low-level job at a California Frito-Lay factory, where he eventually makes a fateful phone call to PepsiCo parent company CEO Roger Enrico. (Tony Shalhoub). Also starring Annie Gonzalez as Montañez’s wife Judy, with Dennis Haysbert and Matt Walsh as fellow factory workers, the film is an energetic and vivid modern fable of perseverance, self-belief and overcoming the odds.

It has also been overshadowed by a Times blockbuster story refuting Montañez’s account of his role in the origin of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, published in 2021, when the film was already in development. However, the project went ahead.

“That story never affected us,” Longoria said in a recent phone interview. “I feel like the LA Times would have better resources devoted to more important things.

“We never set out to tell the Cheeto story,” he asserted. We tell the story of Richard Montañez and we tell his truth.

However, as a Frito-Lay company investigation cited in the Times story concluded, “We appreciate Richard’s many contributions to our company, especially his knowledge of Hispanic consumers, but we do not credit him with creating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or any Flamin’ Hot products on him.”

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

However, the statement, while acknowledging Montañez’s other contributions to the company, did not dispute the Times report, reiterating that PepsiCo could not “clearly connect” Montañez’s story and the team whose “spicy product offering” ” tested in the market”. and was found [its] permanent products on store shelves, including Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.”

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

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

“Richard’s story is our story. We are all Richard Montañez,” he said. “There was a moment in our lives when somebody said, ‘No, no, no. Ideas don’t come from people like you.’ ‘NO NO NO. This job is not for someone like you.” ‘NO NO NO. I don’t think you’re qualified for that.” And so I think we will all relate to his tenacity and his belief in himself. How was it just, “Why not?” He dared to ask “But why not me too?”

Jesse Garcia in ‘Flamin’ Hot’.

(Emily Aragones/Searchlight Pictures)

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

Although still best known as an actress, most notably on the series “Desperate Housewives,” Longoria is increasingly active behind the camera. Having made several short films, he has also directed episodes of several series such as “Jane the Virgin”, “black-ish” and “Gordita Chronicles” and directed the feature documentary “La Guerra Civil”, which premiered at the Film Festival Sundance 2022. .

For Franklin, Longoria was an obvious choice to lead the project.

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

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

— Eva Longoria in her feature directorial debut, “Flamin’ Hot”

Even knowing she was up against more experienced directors while trying to land 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’m from the Mexican-American community, because I understood the struggles that the family faced and that our community faces,” she said. “So when I approached the film, whether it was creation or casting, authenticity was my North Star. I was like, “That’s my superpower.” I know this world.

“I know we put Tapatío in our spaghetti — that’s just something my dad does. The salsa verde goes on in this taco,” Longoria said. “And some of these things that people might go crazy about and not really realize, but the rhythm of the language, the culture of our spices and our food, the way we dress, those things mattered.”

A woman on the director's camera.

Eva Longoria on the set of “Flamin’ Hot”.

(Emily Aragones/Searchlight Pictures)

As depicted in the film, the Mexican American community has forged a special relationship with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos — including Longoria.

“I like to say this is not a PepsiCo product, this is our product,” Longoria said. “The Hispanic community made this product popular, 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 eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. And one day I bought a bag and I was like, “Ugh, these taste weird.” And it was regular Cheetos. I was like, “Are there regular Cheetos?”

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