President Biden entered the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday not to meet with a foreign dignitary or sign a bill, but to celebrate some sort of true story about Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
The president and Jill Biden, the first lady, were in attendance for a screening of « Flamin’ Hot, » a new film about Richard Montañez, who worked as a janitor at Frito-Lay and rose to become a marketing executive.
Mr. Montañez also claims to have invented the spicy finger-staining snack, but a Los Angeles Times investigation he found that he most likely did not.
In any case, the Bidens and Eva Longoria, the director of the film, told the approximately 600 in attendance that the screening celebrated a history of immigrants rooted in the United States.
“Opportunity is a cornerstone of our democracy and the American dream,” Biden said after raising his fist at the mention of Cheetos. « And as you’ll see in the film, that’s exactly what the Hispanic community embodies: opportunity, courage. »
Film screenings have become a popular way for Mr. Biden to celebrate various communities in the White House. In this case, the president is acknowledging an ambitious Latino story — and a famous Latino filmmaker — as the campaign heats up. He received a thunderous reception when he noted that Thursday marked the anniversary of the creation of the program known as DACA that protects hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation, the legality of which risks ending up in the Supreme Court.
“We are here to stay,” an audience member shouted at Mr. Biden. « You’re damn right, » the president replied.
It was one of the most festive atmospheres of the Biden era. He played a Mexican folk ensemble. Guests lounged on picnic blankets and sipped margaritas. Mariachi band members remained in uniform after playing to enjoy chips and guacamole.
But the fries had nothing on Cheetos. A White House staffer carried around a cardboard box, handing out bags of snack corn. The outdoor bar tablecloths were orange Cheetos. One attendee wore Cheetos-themed high socks, and another wore an orange jacket that told her friend she was a « Flamin’ Hot Cheeto, » too.
Last month Biden also turned to cinema to celebrate immigrants. Before screening “American Born Chinese,” he described the journey of one of the film’s actors, who was born in Vietnam before finding refuge in Hong Kong and then pursuing his dreams of him in the United States.
As some states limit how African-American history can be taught in schools, Mr. Biden reminded an audience of black leaders that « history matters » before showing « Till, » the story of Emmett Till, the black boy 14-year-old whose murder in 1955 galvanized the civil rights movement.
Presidents have long used movie screenings, usually inside the White House movie theater, for political awareness. Henry Kissinger used the theater to host foreign diplomats, according to Tevi Troy, a historian who chronicled the presidents’ movie-viewing habits.
On Election Night 2016, President Barack Obama watched “Dr. Strange. »
In the case of « Flamin’ Hot, » Mr. Biden avoided the theater for the South Lawn, which can seat hundreds of additional guests. (The White House theater seats about 50.)
« If you’re trying to appeal to Hispanic voters, » Troy said, « just having 20 people in a room isn’t all that much. »
Melissa Morales, president of Somos Votantes, an organization that raises awareness for Latino voters, said the film could resonate with Latino viewers like herself. She said she remembers running around as a kid with red fingers « because I ate hot Cheetos all the time. »
« To have that experience and what feels like millions of other Latinos lived on screen, » she said, is « pretty amazing. »