‘Flamin’ Hot’ is Latino Excellence, Cholo Representation, & Latina Power in One

Flamin’ Hot  is about more than the development of the spicy snack or  even the rags to riches story of its developer Richard Montañez, it’s about the collective effort behind and in front of the camera to bring a story about the Latinx community to the screen

Flamin Hot movie

Jesse Garcia, Annie Gonzalez, and Hunter Jones in FLAMIN’ HOT. Photo by Emily Aragones. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

Flamin’ Hot  is about more than the development of the spicy snack or  even the rags to riches story of its developer Richard Montañez, it’s about the collective effort behind and in front of the camera to bring a story about the Latinx community to the screen. Helmed by Eva Longoria in her feature film debut as a director, the film is both feel-good and an authentic portrayal of the struggles our community faces. Montañez (Jesse Garcia) is the brains of the film even though he doesn’t even know it at first. We see a young Richard growing up in a large Mexican American family in the 1960s in a migrant labor camp in Guasti in San Bernardino County, California  in a school with white classmates who bully him. But he turns that around quickly when he gives them a taste of the burrito his mom packs him for lunch, the very food they mocked him for, and they want more so he charges them for it. And just like that, a budding entrepreneur is born. “Taco Bell didn’t introduce the world to burritos—me and my mama did,” he says, adding, “At least, that’s what it felt like to me.” Even in adulthood though, he still finds himself amid white men and made to feel less than only to prove them wrong helping launch what would become a billion dollar business.

The story, narrated by Garcia, comes to life courtesy of screenwriters Linda Yvette Chávez (Gentefied) and Lewis Colick with Mexican American actress Annie Gonzalez as his wife, Judy, easily the heart of the film. Montañez is a high school dropout who makes a living selling drugs until he takes a job as a janitor at Frito-Lay. It’s there he finds his ambition and creativity to develop a chip that caters to the Latinx community.

“I think everyone Latinx in the industry, we are always striving to see ourselves represented in new and fresh ways. And that’s what I saw in what Eva sent to me,” Chávez tells HipLatina. “I’m Chicana I’m from LA, I ate Cheetos growing up, it’s real.”

Longoria tells us Chávez was the “only one” who could write this script sharing she was a fan of the screenwriter before Gentefied. She attributes the realness of the story to her work, in particular the cholo translations Richard provides when imagining what corporate meetings are like using cholo slang that he then interprets into typical cooperate talk. She shares that they were intentional about “humanizing” cholos and steering away from the stereotypical portrayals. At one point during Richard’s interview for the janitor job, he tries to compensate for not having a high school diploma by say he has a PhD as in he’s “poor, hungry,  and determined.” It’s not just the work ethic, it’s the cholo brotherhood that comes together to support him when Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are first released. We also see Richard imparting a sense of pride in Mexican American to his own son who is once again bullied for his heritage. This level of celebration and nuanced storytelling centered on Latinx characters is a rarity making not just the story but the existence of the film itself a powerful statement.

Flamin' Hot Jesse Garcia Annie Gonzalez

Jesse Garcia and Annie Gonzalez, in FLAMIN’ HOT. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

“We’re gonna show them but in reality, they’re beautiful, family oriented, hard working, complicated. survivalists. And so that’s one thing. I think Linda really knocked out of the park was that beauty in the cholo culture,” Longoria says. The 48-year-old has been working behind the camera for more than 20 years having directed episodes of  Gordita Chronicles and Jane the Virgin among others. With this film being her feature film directorial debut it’s not just a professional feat, it’s a personal one. As the daughter of Mexican American parents born in Corpus Christi, Texas with a master’s degree in Chicano Studies from California State University, Northridge, she’s well versed in the Chicano experience. Now she’s hoping Latinx audiences show up to prove to studios these stories are worth telling.

“We can’t get a film every 20 years, we’re never going to reach equality that way. So the only way that studios will make more movies like this is success and so we have to be successful. We just made this for us by us and so we did our part now we need the audience to do their part.”

When it comes to the lack of Latinx stories or diverse representation, the numbers speak for themselves in a USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative 2021 study of films from 2019:

  • Only three directors of 1,447 were Latina
  • Of the top-billed Latino actors, 13.2 percent were shown as lower class/impoverished
  • 39.5 percent  of the top-billed Latino actors were portrayed as criminals
  • 6.2 percent Latino leads/co leads occurred in 2019. In 2007, there were zero.
  • Only 1.9 percent of all leads/co leads across 1,300 movies were Latinas as were only
    6.5 percent of all female protagonists.

With Longoria steering the film into a place of authentic and nuanced storytelling alongside Chávez,  González rounds out the Latina powerhouse trio. Her portrayal of Judy is that of the strong matriarch and the motivation he needs; Like he says in the film, “Get you a Judy.” She tells HipLatina that she was inspired by “every woman that has raised me, every woman that I know.” In the film we see Judy collecting spices to concoct what would become the basis for the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto though they also share the lab version in the film, two very different versions of the signature hot flavoring. But it’s the homestyle version that Richard and his family develop that’s the star and we see that it’s inspired by the Mexican elote that’s popular among street vendors in the LA area. That moment follows a tender scene where he tells his son, in the face of the bullying he faces at school that “being Mexican is a superpower.”

Flamin'Hot family

(From: L-R) Brice Gonzalez, Annie Gonzalez, Jesse Garcia and Hunter Jones in FLAMIN’ HOT. Photo by Emily Aragones. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

It’s lines like that that piece together the story of triumph over adversity (that includes domestic violence, lack of an education, lack of access to resources) that make the film an ode to the Latinx community. “When Linda and I sat down to come up with this,  we felt the actual responsibility to deliver something authentic and good. And Annie and Jesse showed up and go, ‘Yeah, we’re with you. We’re on it’. We were all like rowing in the same direction in the boat.”

Eva Longoria Flamin' Hot

Eva Longoria on set of FLAMIN’ HOT. Photo by Anna Kooris. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

Garcia’s portrayal shows a man in the midst of figuring it out and achieving unprecedented success and the fact that it’s inspired by a true story only reinforces that these stories are out there.

Chávez says that the she and Longoria had the shared goal of wanting to “show ourselves in our full complexity and that includes the good and the bad, we’re not perfect humans.  I think that’s really equality in representation where we get to be full humans and I think that’s the goal with everything that we do, we want to see our real ourselves on screen.”

Flamin’ Hot is available to stream now on Hulu and Disney+

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