Flamin' Hot, the movie about the legendary story behind America's favorite snack, shows authentic representation of an underrepresented community.
Based on the memoir, A Boy, a Burrito and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive by Richard Montañez, Flamin' Hot premiered on Hulu on June 9th. It tells the story of Mexican immigrant Richard Montañez, who dropped out of school, became a drug-selling gangster, then turned his life around when his girlfriend announced she was pregnant. Richard talked his way into a janitor position at a Frito-Lay factory. After ten years and multiple layoffs due to the economic crisis of the late 80s, he cold-called the CEO to pitch his Mexican-inspired chili slurry that would later become the snack sensation Flamin' Hot Cheetos.
The accuracy of Richard's story is up for debate. The movie is accurate to Richard Motanez's version of the story, but that telling has been disputed and debunked. At this point, it seems unclear how much of his story is true. It makes you wonder why Eva Longoria chose a most likely false story as her directorial debut.
In a movie selling a version of the American Dream using the struggles of the Mexican community as its primary marketing point, how should Hispanics feel about it?
It doesn't matter if Richard invented Flamin Hot Cheetos or not. Somehow he made his way from janitor to marketing executive, and that's what matters. His story led to a positive representation of an underrepresented community. In this case, it showed a healthy relationship.
The film's central couple, Richard (Jesse Garcia) and Judy (Annie Gonzalez), were childhood sweethearts. As the only brown students in elementary school getting bullied at home and school, they decided to stick together. The two stayed together through it all. When Richard was a drug-selling gangster in potentially dangerous situations, Judy was ride or die on his side. When Judy was pregnant, Richard changed his life to be the man she needed him to be. He did all he could to be a better man for her, and she worked to show that she believed in him. They communicated and supported each other in a way that isn't usually displayed by Hispanic couples in media.
They balanced being brown in a white world and helped their children do the same.
In the film, Richard and Judy had two sons, Lucky (Hunter Jones) and Steven (Brice Gonzalez). When the brothers come home from school, Lucky's face is bruised because bullies beat him up for being Mexican. Not understanding why that might be embarrassing, Steven makes fun of him for being scared to embrace his culture. Richard and Judy work together to help the boys be proud of their Mexican background without diminishing their experiences with white people. Richard reminds them they are not bad people just because they're brown and that being Mexican is like having a superpower.
Every scene where Richard and Judy interacted showed their strength as a couple. Despite the potentially fantastical story, their relationship is what grounded the movie. It takes your mind off some of the weirder scenes, like unreliable reenactments of corporate white men talking in cholo slang or sports movie-style pep talks. The movie is best when it focuses on the core family and their culture. Some of the best scenes were the pepper hunt, Richard's fight and reconciliation with his dad, and the kids eating elotes at the park.
Usually, movies highlighting Mexican gangsters are not success stories. Instead, they're tragedies riddled with toxic stereotypes. Regardless of whether the story is true or not, Flamin' Hot flips the narrative and shows Mexicans in a positive light with healthy romantic relationships working towards breaking generational trauma. The story may be fake, but the impact that positive representation has is not.