The actor is making her directorial debut with the story of the creators of one of the most iconic snack foods in America.
The thing you need to know about Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is that they’re addictive.
I’m not just saying that – this spicy, cheesy chip is so good that some scientists have likened eating the snack to having a “mild opiate addiction”. That’s how delicious this crunchy, spicy little treat is. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are the textbook definition of ‘moreish’. They are the embodiment of that other iconic crisp’s tagline: once you pop you can’t stop.
Eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos is made even sweeter, though, when you hear about the story behind their creation. The chip was invented by Richard Montañez, assisted by his wife Judy. Montañez is one of 11 children born to Mexican immigrants and grew up in a small, largely white farming town just outside of Los Angeles. When he first attended school he did not speak a word of English. When he was asked by a teacher what his dream job would be he froze. “I realised I didn’t have a dream,” he told Lowrider magazine. “There was no dream where I came from.”
Eventually, Montañez would take a job as the janitor at Frito-Lay, the snack company behind Doritos and Lay’s potato chips. A few years into the job Montañez noticed that the company had no snacks that catered directly to the Latinx community – nothing with a bit of spice or heat.
Montañez’s idea was simple: what if there was a bag of chips that was flavoured with the kind of seasonings that he had grown up with. In particular Montañez was drawn to the Mexican street food elote, a corn on the cob covered in lashings of chili, salt, lime juice, crema fresca and cotija cheese.
Together, Montañez and his wife Judy took a bag of Cheetos and covered the contents in a mixture of chili powder and other spices. Then he called the CEO of the company and requested a meeting. Montañez, then 26, spent the next few weeks working on a business proposal with his wife and studying marketing strategies at the local library. He designed a logo and bagged samples to distribute to executives. “Don’t forget who you are,” his wife told him as he left for work on the day of the presentation.
Montañez didn’t, wowing Frito-Lay’s CEO and executives with his enthusiasm and innovation. His idea – Flamin’ Hot Cheetos – was universally beloved and tested well among Latinx communities. By 1991 they were on the market; today they are one of Frito-Lay’s most popular products worth around $300 million a year.
And Montañez isn’t a janitor anymore – he’s Vice President of Branding and Sales at Frito-Lay’s parent company PepsiCo, charged with spearheading advertising directed at Latinx communities. He oversees sponsorship, scholarships and charity donations that cater to Hispanic communities. Among those who know him Montañez is called the “godfather of multicultural marketing”. In Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Montañez didn’t just invent a snack, he touched upon the American Dream.
No wonder, then, that the story of Montañez and Judy is about to be turned into a major motion picture. After an extensive year-long search Eva Longoria has been confirmed as the director of the film.
The actor beat out several other candidates to helm the film, impressing the production company with her “authentic approach” to telling the story behind the snack’s creation. This, alongside comedy 24/7 starring Kerry Washington, represents Longoria’s first foray into film directing. (She has previously directed episodes of Black-ish and Jane the Virgin.
It matters that Longoria, a Latinx woman, has been hired to tell the inspiring true story of a Latinx entrepreneur. It matters that this story is being told, in the same way that the story of Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop was told in Joy starring Jennifer Lawrence, or the story of the invention of the windscreen wiper was told in Flash of Genius, starring Greg Kinnear.
It matters because Latinx communities are woefully underrepresented in Hollywood. A report released this week found that only 4.5% of speaking characters in the top grossing movies of the last 12 years were Latinx. (77% of US States have Latinx populations greater than that seen onscreen in movies.)
Of the 1,200 movies that were examined by the research just 4% were directed by a Latinx filmmaker. Only one Latinx woman made the list. One! Here’s some good news, though: if the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos movie is as successful as the snack upon which it is based, Longoria will be able to add her name to this list.
But it also matters for the simple reason that Flamin’ Hot Cheetos matter: because they’re delicious. And we deserve to have a movie about a delicious snack that we can watch while eating said snack.
And we deserve to have Oscar Isaac starring in said movie in the lead role, too.