Though the accuracy of Montañez’s story has been questioned over the years, he's long been hailed as a hero in the Mexican community. This was certainly evident at a press screening of Flamin’ Hot at the Angelika on Thursday, two nights before the film’s streaming release. Cheers filled the room as the real Montañez and his wife, Judy, were revealed to have been sitting in the audience throughout the film. It's also worth noting that relatives of the late Roger Enrico, who was the CEO of PepsiCo at the time of Montañez’s employment with Frito-Lay, were also in attendance.
“The film Flamin’ Hot is Richard Montañez’s story, told from his point of view,” said a representative from Frito-Lay in an email to the Observer. “His contributions to Frito-Lay are highlighted throughout the film, specifically his insights and ideas on how to better serve Hispanic consumers and engage the Hispanic community, a legacy PepsiCo continues today. We are grateful to him for that, and hope people enjoy the film.”
The day after the Dallas screening, we caught up with the film’s director, Eva Longoria, and actors Jesse Garcia and Annie Gonzalez, who play Richard and Judy in Flamin’ Hot, at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek.
For all three of them, telling the story of Montañez elicited a lot of pressure to do so in an honest way, but Garcia remembers feeling like the role was made for him.
“We don’t get these opportunities very often,” Garcia says. “I didn't have a choice. I had to do this movie. And Eva said ‘Yes, I'm gonna do this movie. I'm gonna take the weight of telling Richard Montañez’s story, and it’s a go.'”
Frito-Lay and PepsiCo are headquartered in Plano, but the story takes place in the company’s Rancho Cucamonga, California, plant. Gonzalez, who hails from California, says she wasn’t too familiar with Montañez’s story until she read the script and immediately became intrigued.
“It's so inspirational to come from essentially not much, you know, and not even finish high school, and then be this,” Gonzalez says of Montañez.
Longoria says she saw herself in Montañez’s story. Having been told “no” several times as a Latina woman in the film industry, she recalls facing many obstacles of her own.
While this movie tells a story of Latino triumph, Longoria believes there’s still “so much room for improvement” in the landscape of Latino representation in film and television.
"Eva said ‘Yes, I'm gonna do this movie. I'm gonna take the weight of telling Richard Montañez’s story, and it’s a go.'” – Actor Jesse Garcia
“We're the biggest moviegoers out there, and yet we're 5% in TV and film," she says of the lack of representation. “[People say] that Hollywood's so progressive, but there are still less female directors today than there were a couple of years ago. And that's why it's so important specifically for our community to show up for and push play on Hulu and Disney+. Because when you're pushing play, that's your vote and that's your voice to tell studios, ‘We want more stories like this.’”
Garcia emphasizes that viewers should watch the film all the way through, then playfully suggests that we “keep it on loop.”
Longoria adds, “Put it on your iPhone, put it on your TV, and put it on your iPad.”
While Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (as well as other variations of Flamin’ Hot-flavored chips, sushi rolls, and even ice cream) have become a household name, Montañez’s stories highlights the plights and victories of a Latino underdog — stories that often go overlooked.
“You look at the [poster] and you think [the movie is] about Flamin’ Hots, and then you get all of this magnificent culture that you had no idea existed,” says Gonzalez. “Because Hollywood doesn't let us have these stories. OK. And it's not just us — there are so many other brilliant people.”