Why Latine Communities Need Eva Longoria’s New Film, “Flamin’ Hot”
Eva Longoria‘s directorial debut “Flamin Hot” doesn’t begin like your typical film. As the opening credits role, it seems normal enough, with Searchlight Pictures’s drum role, a rhythm moviegoers everywhere know. But as the horns come in, the classic tune is transformed from the traditional march to mariachi – gritas and all. It’s a clear sign that what’s about to happen has a different flavor, a decidedly Mexican perspective.
“My North Star was authenticity,” Longoria tells POPSUGAR of creating the biopic of Richard Montañez and his wife Judy as he rises from a janitor at Frito Lay to an executive, thanks to his insight into the Latine community and our untapped market potential in the spicy snack arena.
Longoria shares that in directing the film it was really crucial to her that they got all the cultural details right. She wanted to film to feel like a love letter to Richard Montañez and the community. Everything mattered from the music, the props, the costume, and the production design – even the way the house looked.
“I felt the pressure to get the story right, not only for Richard’s sake and to do him justice, but, you know, if this movie didn’t do well, studios go, ‘Oh, Latino stories don’t work. Oh, Latino storytellers aren’t good,'” Longoria says.
She took her responsibility seriously, asserting, “Hollywood defines what heroes look like and they never look like Richard. They never look like us. And so to have the opportunity to craft a hero that looks like my dad, and sounds like my uncle, this is going to be an opportunity I’m not going to waste.”
Longoria did that by hiring people she considers to be smarter than herself. “My motto on set is, the best idea wins. I think 10 brains are better than one,” she says. And so she brought together what she called an “insane team of Latinos” who understood the assignment, got the stakes, and gave their all. Longoria called the resulting movie set, “a love fest.”
An integral part of that team was lead actor Jesse Garcia who plays Robert Montañez in the film. “I read the script and felt like it was written for me,” Garcia tells POPSUGAR while explaining how he related to the Mexican American rags-to-riches story. “My family didn’t come from a whole lot of money either. Everyone had to do what they had to do to get by. We moved around a lot when my dad was looking for work. And my parents would sell burritos at my dad’s school. So we’ve done all of the same things that Richard and Judy did. So, I related to it that way.”
Likewise, Annie Gonzalez who plays Judy Montañez, told POPSUGAR, that when she read the script, she thought, “I know this woman, that’s me. That’s my mom. Those are my ideas.” She went on to clarify what makes “Flamin’ Hot’s” representation of Judy so exceptional:
“In Latino households, we as women especially, are made to be all the things. We are the soft landing pad and we are the iron fist that keeps you pushing. And I feel like we very rarely get to have that on screen. We live it in our day-to-day. But how often do we get to see ourselves portrayed in that way?” she says. “A lot of the time, we have people that don’t look like us telling our stories and/or writing our stories for us. And they’re usually kind of one note. I feel like a lot of the narratives that we’ve seen on TV, we’re either the saint or we’re the whore.”
But Judy is neither of those things, a woman who marries her childhood sweetheart, dips into chola life, and when she becomes pregnant, pushes herself and her husband onto a less dangerous path. Indeed, “Flamin’ Hot” is packed with so much cultural authenticity that it feels like a warm embrace of la cultura, a gift from Longoria and her team to the Latine community, specifically Mexican American communities, who are not used to seeing themselves represented in this way on screen.
And it’s not just the stylistic choices – although the music, the hair, the costumes, it’s all there. “Flamin’ Hot” also shows its commitment to the community by exploring Latine themes and what it has really meant to be Chicano in California throughout the decades. When Robert starts work at Frito Lay as a janitor, he looks around for allies to help him rise through the ranks. All the Latines have similar jobs to him, but he notices Clarence, played by Dennis Haysbert, a Black engineer who’s had to be twice as good to get half as far. Clarence starts off skeptical of the eager and ambitious newbie but Roger wins him over, eventually earning the term “brother” the then-janitor originally applies to his superior.
It’s the type of cross-racial alliance that Hollywood rarely portrays, even if it’s common in real life. In fact, “Flamin’ Hot” started off with producer DeVon Franklin, who met with Robert Montañez and recounted to POPSUGAR, “I just gave him my word, I’m gonna get your movie made. And it was because I felt like if his story was moving me, it could move others too.”
It was Franklin who brought on Longoria and she joked, “I like to say we are Clarence and Richard,” with Franklin chiming in, “It’s amazing how art imitates life and life imitates art in us coming together to do this and bring this to the world. And Richard and Clarence (or Julius is his real name), coming together to help bring “Flamin’ Hot” to the world. So it’s fantastic that it really is about reaching across the aisle and partnering up. We are definitely stronger than the sum of our parts.”
It’s an inspiring message that permeates the film, a positive outlook that’s infectious when you watch “Flamin’ Hot.” This makes sense because Longoria said she wants audiences to “walk away feeling super inspired.”
“If you see Richard’s life and everything he overcame and how he’s dealt with every racism and classism situation with dignity and grace, you go, ‘Wow, that guy did it, and survived and is thriving. Imagine what I can do.,” Longoria says.
Gonzalez shared a complementary aim. She told POPSUGAR, she wants Latine audiences who watch the film to “understand that they are the hero that they’re looking for. That they are beautifully, wonderfully, and perfectly made. That superheroes look like many different things. And sometimes we wear capes and sometimes we wear aprons and sometimes we hold brooms. We are never just one thing and we’re super powerful.”
“Flamin’ Hot” rejoices in that power, celebrating the potential of our community from its opening credits to its closing sequence. And that’s a beautiful thing to behold.
“Flamin Hot” releases on Hulu and Disney + on June 9.