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

Only a few short months earlier, 2021 will be here filming was set to commenceThe Los Angeles Times published an investigative piece Frito-Lay snack corporation disputed Montañez’s claims that he was responsible for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The company wrote in a statement to the newspaper that “none of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market,” but made clear that there was no love lost with Montañez. For four decades, he had been with the company. Some of his time there he was vice president for multicultural sales and community promotion for the parent company PepsiCo. “That doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate Richard, but the facts do not support the urban legend,” the statement continued.

The cast and crew Flamin’ Hot At the SXSW premiere
Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images Searchlight Pictures

Before the film’s Austin premiere last weekend, Longoria participated in a Q&A session with Hollywood Reporter’s Mia Galuppo at the Austin Convention Center. Galuppo mentioned the report about halfway through and asked Longoria how she handled the claims. “It’s interesting because it didn’t affect our script at all,” she said. “Our story’s always been about Richard Montañez. We’ve never set out to tell the history of the Cheeto. I don’t know if you guys would show up for that movie. This is the history of Richard Montañez, which happened to have a really big hand in the launch of this product.”

Longoria talked about how the script never called Montañez a “food chemist.” Instead, she said that “his genius was saying, ‘Nobody’s paying attention to the Hispanic market. We put chile on chips.’ He did come up with a recipe. He did invent a slurry. [Editor’s note: a liquid-based mixture of ingredients] In his kitchen. And he and his wife have so many wonderful memories of that.”

Through the film, Longoria explained that Frito-Lay doesn’t use Montañez’s exact recipe; instead, the company slightly alters it after food scientists got involved, adding in maltodextrin (a substance that improves shelf life) with whatever other chemicals were used to make a product viable for mass production. The story, she said, is about the origin story of a visionary and “why he’s known as the godfather of Hispanic marketing,” who tapped into a community that wasn’t being paid attention to, a community he knew well because he was a part of it.

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

Still from Flamin’ Hot.
Searchlight – Emily Aragones

However, the movie is definitely about the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Maybe not the main plot, which concerns Montañez and his family and how they are trying to make it in a racist country — something the film does not shy away from depicting by way of montages of the Chicano movement and when a young Montañez is arrested for being Brown with a handful of cash.

But the film is certainly about how Montañez himself dreamed up the spicy snack so popular it’s been banned in schools. According to the Los Angeles Times, Frito-Lay said Montañez did play an integral part in a line of food marketed specifically to the Latinx community — Sabrositas, which included 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 who is credited by Frito-Lay for developing the Flamin’ Hot name and brand, led the launch of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. The Los Angeles Times Report indicates that the story Montañez tells about developing Flamin’ Hot Cheetos was actually about his work on Sabrositas. A reference was also made to an old newspaper. U.S. News and World Report article published in December 1993 that credited the then 37-year-old machine operator for bursting “forth with a kernel of an idea: Flamin’ Hot Popcorn, which will soon make its debut.”

With speaking engagements, memoirs, and now a feature film, Montañez has made a lucrative living out of the claim he invented what many would call the greatest chip of all time. These claims are at best speculative. However, almost everyone (besides Greenfeld, for example) stands to gain more by acting like Montañez is Flamin’ Hot Cheetos’s mastermind. Longoria and the cast and crew responsible for Flamin’ Hot get their feel-good movie of the summer. Frito-Lay is able to associate with a story about rags-to-riches that will undoubtedly increase its stock prices in June and boost brand loyalty. Audiences get to see themselves on screen in a way they’ve rarely seen before, in terms of an accurate depiction of the culture, and Montañez, whether he developed the actual Hot Cheeto or not, is an example of success in a system designed for him to fail.

A woman dressed in black sitting and talking into a microphone.

Eva Longoria speaking at SXSW.
Hutton Supancic/Getty Images SXSW

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