‘Flamin’ Hot’ Cheetos Movie Director Eva Longoria Talks at SXSW

‘Flamin’ Hot’ Cheetos Movie Director Eva Longoria Talks at SXSW

Eva Longoria was born in Texas feature-length directorial debut, Flamin’ Hotis about Richard Montañez and his journey from factory janitor to inventor of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in the late 1970s and 1980s. The film made its world premiere in South By Southwest (SXSW) on March 11 and will be available on Hulu starting June 9. The biopic is a funny and charming story centered on a Mexican American man, his family, and his culture. It will likely be a hit, but not without controversy.

In 2021, just a few months away filming is set to beginThe Los Angeles Times published an investigative piece where the snack corporation Frito-Lay disputed Montañez claims that he is responsible for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The company wrote in a press release that “none of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market,” but clarified that Montañez had lost no love. He worked at the company for four decades, some of which he spent as vice president of multicultural sales and community promotion for overall parent company PepsiCo. “That doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate Richard, but the facts don’t support the urban legend,” the statement continued.

People in front of a yellow step and repeat.

The cast and crew of Flamin’ Hot at the SXSW premiere.
Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Searchlight Pictures

Before the movie’s Austin premiere last weekend, Longoria participate in a Q&A session with Hollywood Reporterby Mia Galuppo at the Austin Convention Center. About halfway through, Galuppo released the report, questioning how Longoria had navigated the claims. “It was interesting because it didn’t affect our script,” he said. “Our story is always about Richard Montañez. We haven’t set out to tell the history of the Cheeto. I don’t know if you guys will appear in that movie. This is the story of Richard Montañez, who happened to have a big hand in launching this product.”

Longoria said how the script didn’t call Montañez a “food chemist.” Instead, he says that “his genius was saying, ‘Nobody’s paying attention to the Hispanic market. We’re putting chile on chips.’ He made a recipe. He did make a slurry [Editor’s note: a liquid-based mixture of ingredients] in his kitchen. And he and his wife have so many great memories of that.”

Through the film, Longoria explained that Frito-Lay does not use Montañez’s exact recipe; instead, the company changed it slightly after food scientists got involved, adding in maltodextrin (a substance that improves shelf life) along with any other chemicals used to make a product viable for mass production. The story, he said, is about the origin story of a visionary and “why he’s known as the godfather of Hispanic marketing,” tapping into a community that’s been overlooked, a community he knows because he’s a part of these.

A small child at a table eating a snack and three people standing in front of them watching.

Still a mule Flamin’ Hot.
Emily Aragones/Searchlight

However, the movie is definitely about Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Perhaps not the main plot, which concerns Montañez and his family and how they try to make it in a racist country — something the film is not shy to depict through montages of the Chicano movement and when a young Montañez was arrested for being Brown with little money.

But the film is definitely about how Montañez himself dreamed up the spicy snack that was so popular back then banned in schools. According to the Los Angeles TimesFrito-Lay says Montañez plays an integral part in a food line marketed specifically to the Latinx community — Sabrositas, which includes Flamin’ Hot Popcorn, and two Fritos flavors, Flamin’ Hot and Lime and Chile Corn Chips. Those products hit the market in 1994, four years after Lynne Greenfeld, the person Frito-Lay credits for developing the Flamin’ Hot name and brand, spearheaded the launch of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The Los Angeles Times report indicating that Montañez’s story about developing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is actually about his work at Sabrositas. The newspaper also referred to an old one US News and World Report article published in December 1993 that credited the then 37-year-old machine operator with coming up with “a whole idea: Flamin’ Hot Popcorn, about to debut.”

In speaking engagements, memoirs, and now a feature film, Montañez has made a lucrative living from claiming to have invented what many call the greatest chip of all. of time. The veracity of said claims is murky at best. However, almost everyone (except Greenfeld, for example) stands to gain more by acting like Montañez is the mastermind behind Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Longoria and the cast and crew responsible for Flamin’ Hot got their feel-good movie of the summer. Frito-Lay is engaging in a rags-to-riches story that will undoubtedly boost its stock prices come June and boost brand loyalty. Audiences were seeing themselves on screen in a way they rarely had before, in terms of culturally accurate portrayals, and Montañez, whether he created the actual Hot Cheeto or not, is an example of success in a system designed for him to fail.

A woman in black sitting and talking into a microphone.

Eva Longoria during her speaker session at SXSW.
Hutton Supancic/Getty Images for SXSW