“Flamin’ Hot” Tells the Unique Origin Story of America’s Favorite Go-To Snack

by Bedatri Datta Choudhury

“It burns good!” exclaims Richard and Judy Montañez’s young son while testing out a spice slurry his parents have been trying to perfect. The Montañez family forms the core of Eva Longoria’s narrative directorial debut, Flamin’ Hot, a sorta-biopic of Richard Montañez, the Mexican-American janitor who claims to have invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and turned the company’s fortune around along with his own.

Though Montañez’s claims have since been contested, the controversy does not diminish the joy of Longoria’s film. It’s a story of an immigrant’s triumph in a society where the odds are always systemically stacked against him. Thanks to his grit and ingenuity, Richard (Jesse Garcia) finds a way to make some banging snack dust, with loving scrutiny and support from his rock of a wife, Judy (the excellent Annie Gonzalez).

Flamin’ Hot is a feel-good, rags-to-riches film that takes leaps of logic and glosses over nuances—the usual stuff of films where things work out for white American entrepreneurs—but this time, it’s an erstwhile drug dealer from a community stereotyped for its laziness who’s setting the record straight. The American snack industry would probably be much less profitable without the likes of Richard. Like Longoria’s documentary La Guerra Civil, Flamin’ Hot is a celebration of American barrios, Mexican immigrants, and the ways they make the country more and more delicious every day.

Top photo by Flamin’ Hot Searchlight Pictures

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