Flamin’ Out

The Flamin’ Hot Cheetos movie is a corporate motivational lecture masquerading as entertainment

After the release of films like Tetris, Air, and Blackberry earlier this year, Flamin’ Hot had a problem. The trend of films based on the development of consumer products is already too silly for its own good. Flamin’ Hot is also in the awkward position of being too lighthearted to even be able to make its product placement premise pretentious enough to justify its own existence. Indeed, Flamin’ Hot is barely even about the product the movie is named after at all. It’s really more of a biopic about Richard Montañez, the janitor turned marketing executive who claimed to have invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos-and in a sense, the entire concept of motivational corporate antiracism to begin with.

The word “claimed” does a lot of work in that sentence, as the story is almost certainly made up. The Los Angeles Times published a fairly compelling, well-researched piece two years ago. which states that any basic comparison of verifiable details regarding the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos product development timeline with the narrative Montañez had been telling on the corporate motivational speech tour over the last ten years just doesn’t make sense. Bear in mind that we started off with Montañez telling an already-sounding pretty made up story of a hardworking Mexican-American convincing white people that spiciness sells, and that racism gets in the way of corporate profits.

Flamin’ Hot still sounds pretty made up in execution, the only real evidence that the screenwriters even heard of the Los Angeles Times story being a one-off line which acknowledges that Cheetos was test-marketing a spicy product (but not Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in name) in the Upper Midwest concurrent with Montañez making his pitch. There is some fantastic irony to this. The stereotype of white people not liking spicy food, and people in the Midwest being the stereotypically whitest people of all, is a large part of what makes the story Montañez tells sound plausible even if the details don’t make any sense after even the slightest prodding.

But does any of that matter? Probably not. On June 13th, the White House announced a special film screening of Flamin’ Hoton June 15th. On that day, President Joe Biden accidentally brought the movie back into the discourse by making another one of his regular gross comments about Eva Langoria. That President Joe Biden would want to hold a special film screening for Flamin’ Hot is unsurprising for a lot of reasons. The president has had a longstanding reputation of telling bizarre, easily disproven lies if he thinks they make for a good story. Also ,he loves entrepreneurs. And he really needs to pander to Latino voters. The extent to which Latinos care about the movie is hard to say, though, since Disney isn’t terribly transparent about its viewer numbers in the United States, let alone Latin America. Incidentally in the United States Flamin’ Hot second place, ahead of the Czech sci-fi horror film The Devil Conspiracy and a spot ahead of Grown Ups.

South of the border, Flamin’ Hot is the most popular movie currently airing on Star+ in Mexico, but every other Spanish-speaking territory cites either F9 or Transformers: The Last Knight as the current leader. Which are admittedly still more impressive movies for Flamin’ Hot to beat compared with Grown Ups. The charts on Flamin’ Hot are weird in general. It’s performed somewhat more consistently on Disney+ than Hulu, sandwiched between Moana and Encanto in third place on Disney+ since its release on June 9th; the White House screening has driven much of that, since that news story appears to have been the first a lot of people heard about the movie. They’re generally describing Flamin’ Hot as a Hulu film, not a Disney+ one.

Did you know that a Mexican actually invented Fritos? Not, like, the single most stereotypically Mexican-seeming variant, I mean a Mexican manufacturer created the actual chips on which they based the Frito-Lay corporation. He sold out his business to move back to Mexico during the Great Depression. That’s what offends me the most about Flamin’ Hot. Richard Montañez and the whole corporate culture he represents completely buys into myths of white supremacy and American exceptionalism because it worked out great for him.

The goofy fantasy of Flamin’ Hot doesn’t challenge racism. It just romanticizes it as one more minor obstacle in an inspirational story. Also I felt like I was attending a corporate motivational lecture the whole time I was watching Flamin’ Hot. While there might be some people who find that kind of thing entertaining, I wasn’t one of them.


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William Schwartz

William Schwartz is a reporter and film critic based in Seoul, South Korea. He writes primarily for HanCinema, the world's largest and most popular English language database for South Korean television dramas and films.

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