“You wanna survive this crazy world? Get yourself a ‘Judy.’” That ardent advice is spoken by Richard Montañez (Jesse Garcia) in the new film Flamin’ Hot. And if anyone knows how to not only survive in el mundo, let alone thrive, it is Richard Montañez. He and his story have been a hot subject since his book A Boy, a Burrito, and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive hit bookshelves in March of 2013. The book is his story of rising through the ranks at Frito Lay. Montañez, a Mexican man, went from freshening up Frito’s floors to flavoring one of America’s most beloved bites… the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto.
Fast forward a decade and that book has been basted, baked, and braised for the big screen. Those doing the cookin’ are Chicano to the core. But it’s the Chicanas, both onscreen and off, that are adding more flame to this already fiery hot film.
At the root of this recipe is Judy Montañez. Judy is Richard’s wife and as you’ve already read, he establishes from the get-go that Judy is the key to surviving the wild world. The film’s story is told from his perspective and as such Judy isn’t just his wife, she is his partner in every sense of the word. And just like the Latino homes we were raised in, Judy is the backbone of the family and as responsible for Richard’s success as he is.
The essence of this superwoman was crucial to get right. Not just any woman could maneuver the heavy lift of bringing Judy – and so many Latina women – to life onscreen. Annie Gonzalez (Gentefied) was the lucky Latina given the task. LatinaMediaCo talked to both Jessie Garcia and Annie Gonzalez the day after the film premiered in Los Angeles. For Gonzalez, she credits some of her strength to her own family.
“If I wasn’t raised by a mujer like my mom who was like, ‘Just do it.’ things might be different. I was always taught, don’t look at what you don’t want, look at what you do want,” says the actress of two decades. “I am sixth generation and I was never raised with the idea that I couldn’t do something based off of my gender or my ethnicity. I realize that’s some sort of privilege that I have.” Gonzalez is keenly aware of how fortunate she is. Fortunate to have had the upbringing she had, to be in the position she is in, and in the company of some of the fiercest females that are poised to take their spot at the Hollywood table. “I feel like that has set a precedent for me,” Gonzalez says of being surrounded by more diversity than some artists see in their entire working career.
Gonzalez stands alongside Flamin’ Hot’s director Eva Longoria and co-screenplay writer Linda Yvette Chávez. Longoria, a household name, has worked her way through Hollywood amplifying the Latino experience in every project along the way. Flamin’ Hot is a first for her in that it marks her feature film debut as a director.
Chávez is a force all her own having created, written, and executive produced Gentefied – in which Gonzalez was a main character. And the actress has nothing but praise for the team behind the film, saying, “Meeting someone like Eva and like Linda who don’t just speak about it they embody it, they live it, they show up for their community and for themselves. They know it’s bigger than them.”
Gonzalez is taking note and is more than willing to do her share to lift the Latino voice. “I love my Latinidad. I love my cultura. I’m gonna show up for them full through and through. But I can’t hold a whole community on my back, none of us can. We hear so often that we don’t plant the tree in hopes of eating its fruit, we plant the tree in hopes that the people that come after us can enjoy the shade and the fruit. They [Eva and Linda] are a testament of that. It is how I try and maneuver through my purpose. I know it’s bigger than me too, you know we all do it for the collective.”
Like his co-star, Jesse Garcia has had a career that spans decades. He has seen projects that lack a legitimacy of community, and those that hit so close to the Latino community they feel like home. His preference is the ladder. Garcia knows what so many artists and creatives from underrepresented communities have known for a while, but few projects have managed to pull off: authenticity matters, full stop.
“It is important to have people behind the scenes to make sure that we’re telling the stories right,” says Garcia. “Especially if it’s a culturally relevant story [we need] someone in there, being a part of the story saying, ‘You know this isn’t really how it is,’ or, ‘We’re on the right path.’ To have Eva and Linda and Annie leading the charge on the movie, well,” Garcia pauses before shaking his head in search of the perfect descriptor. “I mean, that’s how Annie grew up. She really relates to the family.”
In other words, it’s accurate AF.
That is not the way Garcia was raised. Growing up in Wyoming, Garcia says he was disconnected from his Latino community. “I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t really connected to my culture growing up,” Garcia says it was his move to LA that really fired up his fusing with the familia. “I had to learn a lot of stuff. I’m still trying to play catch up. I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish so I’m still catching up on that.”
Flamin’ Hot, like the flavor, is loaded with Latindad through and through. And while it may grab our gente, shake us up, and make us feel seen in a way that is ridiculously rare, Garcia says the story is undeniably universal. “I think this is one of those special movies where you get everything that you want in a movie. If you’re needing something of faith, it’s there. If you want a story of an underdog who rises through adversity and connects with their family, well, it’s there. It’s one of those special films that we are all really, really proud of.”
The film’s story and its accuracy have been questioned almost since the project was announced. Despite that, there is one indisputable fact: Flamin’ Hot was directed, co-written, and stars some formidable Latinas. That’s not a tidbit that would have been true five years ago.
Flamin’ Hot is rated PG-13 and drops on Hulu and Disney Plus on June 9.