She goes behind the camera for Flamin’ Hot, the story of America’s favorite snack.
Eva Longoria isn’t fooled by Hollywood’s performative woke veneer; the actor and director says that the entertainment industry is not as progressive as it appears to be from the outside. Representation and diversity are actually slowly dwindling in the film and television industry, specifically with directors (“There are less female directors now than there were three years ago,” she says. “There are less Latinos in TV and film than there were three years ago.”). But Longoria is on a mission to overturn Hollywood’s prejudice complex, all while becoming the representation she never had.
“We’re like any other industry — there's no gender parity, not even close,” she tells InStyle. “Not only are we not close, we're going in the wrong direction. I think the illusion is that Hollywood is very progressive.”
Longoria has had a long illustrious career on and behind the screen. Of course, she’s most known for playing Gabrielle Solis on the hit ABC dramedy Desperate Housewives, though she got her start in daytime on the beloved soap opera The Young and the Restless. Longoria has also cemented herself as a respected producer, backing notable projects such as Devious Maids and John Wick and even starting her own production company, UnbeliEVAble Entertainment. Additionally, she dipped her toe into the directing pool, earning several TV credits, as well as helming the Sundance-selected documentary La Guerra Civil.
But on June 9, Longoria will make her feature directorial debut with Flamin’ Hot, the origin story of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, created by Richard Montañez. The movie will be available to stream this Friday on Hulu and Disney+, making it the first movie to simultaneously premiere on both of the streamers. Longoria immediately resonated with the script and felt called to share the “rags-to-riches'' story about the Mexican-American inventor.
“‘I have to be the one to tell the story,’” she recalls thinking. “I felt ownership about it. I felt like I was Richard Montañez. I've been told no a million times for many reasons. I've been told, ‘No, ideas don't come from people like you,’ and, 'No, you’re a woman, maybe you shouldn't direct.'"
For any Hot Cheetos novices out there, the beloved snack (it’s one of the most popular in the world) was created by Montañez, who was a janitor at a Frito-Lay factory in Rancho Cucamonga at the time. The California native developed the new flavor using ingredients often found in authentic Mexican dishes (such as chili powder and cayenne). While there are discrepancies in the savory puff’s genesis, The Los Angeles Times published a scathing exposé in 2021 purporting that Montañez’s story was completely fabricated. PepsiCo eventually stated that although he was not the sole creator, Montañez was involved in inventing the spicy snack. The film, however, focuses solely on Montañez’s account (which he recounted in his book Flamin' Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man's Rise from Janitor to Top Executive).
In the movie’s depiction, Montañez (played by Jesse Garcia) and his family, including his wife Judy (played by the magnetic Annie Gonzalez), set out to create the fiery snack and search for the best spices and peppers at their local Mexican markets. After much trial and error in their own home test kitchen, the family finds the tastiest combination of ingredients. Montañez catches the attention of then-PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico and later pitches the product to the executive board. Eventually, after testing the product in select stores and supermarkets, the tongue-tickling treat takes off. The inspiring tale lends itself to a much more empowering plot compared to the crooked stories of its food biopic predecessors, such as The Founder.
“It's definitely a feel good movie,” Longoria says. “It's a multi-billion dollar brand, so everybody knows it. You know the flavor, but you don't know the story. And that's what we wanted to do.”
Authenticity was of the utmost importance to Longoria, especially as a Latina herself, and the director felt it was her responsibility to do Montañez’s story justice and portray the Latino community in a truthful and positive light.
“Authenticity was absolutely my North Star,” she explains. “We got to get this right. We don't see the Mexican-American community all the time on the big screen, so if we do, let's get it right.”
Not to mention, Longoria feels that as a minority in an typically homologous industry, she’ll be given less opportunities than her white male counterparts — which would undoubtedly put a lot of pressure on any individual to excel on their first try, something she recently addressed at the Cannes Film Festival. But she doesn’t shy away from a challenge, and in this case, it only made her work harder. “I don't have a problem out hustling anybody in the room. I will work twice as hard. I'll work twice as good. I'll work twice as fast. I don’t have a problem with that,” she said. “I will prove to you that our stories are worth telling, and I will prove to you that we're amazing storytellers. That is a challenge I'll take on any day.”
According to Gonzalez, who plays Montañez’s wife Judy in the film, Longoria’s work ethic and genuine kindness was apparent on set. She says it was always Longoria’s priority to create a “well-rounded” story, which she did with the help of a behind-the-scenes crew helmed by Latinos, including cinematographer Federico Cantini, costume designer Elaine Montalvo, and set designers Brandon Mendez and Cabot McMullen.
“It was amazing. She's so smart,” Gonzalez gushes. “She's so specific. She's so kind and generous with all of her, really. I really do think she knows what's for her is for her, and that there's more than enough to go around.”
When Longoria’s not directing or acting, she continues to tell Latino stories with her red-hot fashion sense. Most recently, during the film festival circuit and her promotional tour de force, she’s been turning out good look after good look. But Longoria says she’s been tapping Hispanic designers for years. Even while filming her CNN show, Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico, Longoria mostly wore Mexican brands. “I definitely like to support Latino designers, there's definitely a moment for that. It's not about talent,” she says. “There's talent everywhere. Do they get the opportunity to shine?”
Regardless of what she’s doing (whether it’s slaying a red carpet or directing a sure-to-be critically acclaimed film), representation and storytelling is at the heart of everything Longoria does. It’s evident in her new film, which will have you laughing one moment and crying the next. Both Longoria and Gonzalez expect this movie to tug at the heartstrings of every single human being — regardless of race, ethnicity, or background — though for them, it just feels good to finally have a Latino hero.
“It's a movie for everybody. It's about a man who overcomes adversity, so I think everybody has lessons to learn from it, but specifically the Hispanic community,” Longoria says. “You can't be what you can't see, and Hollywood gets to define what heroes look like. I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is an opportunity to define a new hero.’ And that hero happens to look like me.”
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