‘Flamin’ Hot’ Movie Revealed to be Scorched with Inaccuracies

in Entertainment, Movies

Photo Credit: 20th Century Studios

Flamin’ Hot is the latest “feel-good” movie released on Hulu and Disney Plus that is being scalded for its multiple inaccuracies. The movie is based on the inspiring story about an ordinary “every man” who extinguished any naysayers as he rose up through Corporate America in the 80s. Cultural representation in cinema has become a long overdue focal point in Hollywood. So the true tale of a Latino man’s historical impact on the American food industry should have been a story to galvanize viewers, not misguide them.

Photo Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Actor and producer, Eva Longoria of Desperate Housewives fame, made her directorial feature debut with this movie. This version tells the story of Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia) who works as a janitor at Frito-Lay to support his wife Judy (Annie Gonzalez) and their sons. His ordinary world becomes extraordinary when he invents the beloved Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that skyrockets his career.

The film is based on Montañez’s 2013 memoir, “A Boy, A Burrito and A Cookie: From Janitor to Executive.” It documented his ascension from former gang member to food inventor. The Los Angeles Times eventually debunked this story in a 2021 research piece. They uncovered that Montañez’s version of events leading to the invention of the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto was a fabrication.

Photo Credit: LA Times

According to the LA Times, “more than 20 former employees, including archival record and Frito-Lay itself” all agree that Montañez did NOT invent the renowned snack. They noted, “None of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market.” They concluded with, “The facts do not support the urban legend. We value Richard’s many contributions to our company, especially his insights into Hispanic consumers, but we do not credit the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or any Flamin’ Hot product to him.”

Fact vs. Fiction

  • FACT: Richard Montañez was an 18-year-old janitor employed at a Southern California Frito-Lay plant in 1976. He was promoted to machinist operator and climbed up the corporate ladder to become the director of Hispanic marketing, then retired in 2019.
  • FICTION: He did not pitch Flamin’ Hot Cheetos while he was a janitor as the film portrays in the story. Montañez did pitch new product initiatives, but that it was not connected to the creation of any Flamin’ Hot foods.
  • FACT: In 1994, Richard began working on a range of items aimed at the Los Angeles Latino market called Sabrositas. It included Flamin’ Hot popcorn and Lime and Chile corn chips.
  • FICTION: Montañez did not propose the Hot Cheetos concept to Frito-Lay CEO, Roger Enrico (Tony Shaloub) and other executives after cold-calling him. Enrico was not even the CEO yet when Flamin’ Hot products were running through test markets.
  • FACT: No one person created Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. It was a flavor developed over time from a variety of teams that started in 1989. The seasoning was developed by McCormick and Lynne Greenfield, a corporate employee in Texas, came up with the name.
Photo Credit: Searchlight Pictures

Even though the events of this “true” story have been debunked, Eva Longoria still chose to proceed with the film because it was already in development by the time the LA Times article was released on May 16, 2021. The Times noted that Frito-Lay contacted the producer, DeVon Franklin from FOX Searchlight about their internal investigation, but the studio still chose to move forward with movie. Langoria defended her feature by stating that they never set out to tell the history of the Cheeto, but Richard Montañez’s story of rising up through the Corporate Food Industry.

Photo Credit: Searchlight Pictures

A representative for Montañez expressed to NPR that the recipe and flavors are Richard’s creation. However, when it was ready for mass production, Frito-Lay tweaked the recipe to claim it as their own product. Richard never got to be part of the change due to his position. He was not in marketing, R&D or sales, he was a machine operator. Montañez definitive statement is that for him, the story of Hot Cheetos is about “overcoming adversity and racial discrimination.”

Nearly any film adaptation that is rooted in true events takes narrative liberties for the sake of entertainment and story flow. Yet, Flamin’ Hot has been put under the microscope because of its overtones of ethnic minorities’ struggle to rise through systemic disenfranchisement and racial discrimination. While important issues like this are necessary to address, the source from where the story is drawn should be rooted in authenticity. Otherwise, it comes off as pandering and fails to do the very thing it sets out to do: Inspire positive change.

in Entertainment, Movies

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