Longoria, 47, appeared in Austin, Texas, this weekend for the South by Southwest premiere of her feature film directorial debut “Flamin’ Hot,” a biopic about Richard Montañez, the former Frito-Lay janitor who worked his way up to becoming an executive and says he invented the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos snack (the company has disputed this). Longoria said during an interview earlier in the day that she never thought she’d direct a feature until this story came across her desk — and she beat out other big-name directors for the shot.
The “Desperate Housewives” star began directing for TV in 2014 and helmed episodes of “Black-ish,” “Why Women Kill,” “The Gordita Chronicles” and more.
But it was “hard to direct after acting for so long” for two big reasons: “Back then, you had to overcome the hurdle of [being stereotyped as] a dumb actor,” she told the SXSW crowd.
“The second biggest hurdle was being a woman,” she continued. “There’s a lot of systemic sexism that still exists behind the camera for female directors. People always wonder why there aren’t more female directors. The talent is there, but it’s definitely difficult.”
Women represented just 12% of directors among top-grossing movies in 2021, a decline from 16% in 2020, according to the Celluloid Ceiling Report from San Diego State University.
Longoria remembers plenty of directors of photography questioning her decisions on set: “Every time I would finish an episode of TV, the DP would go, ‘Wow you really know what you’re doing,’ and I’d be like, ‘Thank you?’ I didn’t know how how to take it.”
Resisting the pressure to ‘man up’
Longoria said she embraces her femininity rather than bending to fit into male-dominated film sets. “I think when we arrive at a certain place, whether it’s in corporate America or any industry, you feel like, ‘I’ve gotta man up,'” she said. “I don’t think you should compromise your femininity to fit into being a director or being a producer or being a leader. Why is [being a] leader associated with masculinity?”
Instead, she said, “I think the best leaders in many industries are women. We’re multitaskers, we’re problem-solvers, we wear many hats at the same time. We are natural leaders, and so I would lean into your femininity.”
As a force behind the camera, and through her production company UnbeliEVAble Entertainment, Longoria also hopes to improve representation of Latinos on screen, both to educate general audiences about authentic Latino experiences, as well as teach Latino history to members of the community.
“If our own Latino community can’t look up at the screen or on TV and see themselves reflected back, they assume we can’t be that,” she said.
As of 2020, Latinos made up 19% of the U.S. population but accounted for 29% of movie tickets sold that year, according to a study by the Motion Picture Association. However, they accounted for just 5.4% of movie leads and 5.7% of actors onscreen that year, according to a 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report by the UCLA social sciences college.
How she knew she was ready to direct a big movie
Longoria said she knew immediately she wanted to win the directing job for “Flamin’ Hot,” which begins streaming on Hulu June 9. Her strong response set a new bar for how she decides what projects to work on next.
In the two years since she began working on the project, “I haven’t felt the way I felt when I read ‘Flamin’ Hot,’ where I said, ‘I am the only person who can do this. I have to do this film. I will die if I don’t direct this film,'” she said. “And I was asking my agent, ‘Do I have to feel that way every time, are there some times you don’t feel that way?’ She said, ‘No, you should always feel that way every time you do something.'”
Part of that drive comes from the opportunity to create a new type of hero in American culture, she said.
“Hollywood dictates what heroes look like,” Longoria said. “And there’s never been a hero who looks like Richard Montañez.”
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