Since 2008, Marvel Studios has been the very model of a modern mini studio.
Chief creative officer Kevin Feige and his small stable of executives have reliably delivered an unbroken string of global blockbusters to theaters and, starting in 2021, smash TV shows for Disney+. And they’ve done so while keeping virtually all their behind-the-scenes drama from spilling over into public view.
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It took just a week for that impeccable reputation to all but collapse, when Disney, Marvel’s parent company, fired Feige’s most high-profile lieutenant, Victoria Alonso, after 17 years with the company, most recently as the president of physical, postproduction, visual effects and animation.
“She’s always been a huge part of Marvel,” former Marvel Studios executive Jeremy Latcham (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) told Variety on March 26. “I was very surprised to see the news. I hope that all gets worked out, that everyone ends up friends. It’s a great group of people that have always been really kind to each other. Hopefully, it doesn’t turn into a thing.”
Alas, it already has. Sources at Disney say Alonso was fired over her decision to moonlight for Amazon Studios as a producer of the Oscar-nominated international film “Argentina, 1985,” without notifying the company’s Management Audit Organization, a committee that approves extracurricular business activities. (For example, Disney film executive Sean Bailey got its approval to invest in Teremana, Dwayne Johnson’s tequila company.)
Things became untenable, these sources say, after Alonso continued to promote “Argentina, 1985” during awards season despite signing an amended employment agreement expressly forbidding her from doing so. Alonso’s attorney, Patty Glaser, calls this contention “absolutely ridiculous,” and counters that the executive was terminated “when she refused to do something she believed was reprehensible” — though what that was remains unclear.
Representatives for Marvel and Alonso declined to comment for this story.
Adding to the acrimony is Alonso’s contention that she was “silenced” after a speech at the 2022 GLAAD Awards in which the executive, who is openly gay, called out Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek by name for his treatment of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. While Alonso did sit for several interviews in the months following her speech, she doesn’t appear to have done any press for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” — the studio’s first major awards season contender since the original “Black Panther” — outside of the film’s red carpet premiere, where she briefly spoke with Variety and other outlets.
The prevailing theme of the press Alonso has done recently is her passionate belief in broadening representation at Marvel, which makes her acrimonious departure from Disney that much more notable. She’s arguably the film industry’s most prominent Latino executive, making a point of aligning herself with organizations at the intersection of the communities she represents — such as ReFrame, the initiative founded and led by Women in Film and the Sundance Institute to promote diversity on film sets and in executive suites.
“Anytime we called Victoria and asked for something, whether in her official capacity at Marvel or to participate as a mentor, she always said yes,” says Women in Film CEO Kirsten Schaffer, describing Alonso as having had a profound impact on gender equity in the business. “Her willingness to engage and stand up for women and other underrepresented people is unparalleled. There are very few people who do what she does.”
Likewise, GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis hails Alonso as a “pioneer” in the entertainment industry, who advocated for the inclusion of LGBTQ people, women and people of color, both on camera and behind the scenes. “Her visibility as a top industry executive continues to call attention to the urgent need to grow diversity among leadership in studios and networks,” Ellis says.
Ben Lopez, who worked with Alonso when he was executive director at the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, says he wasn’t surprised that Alonso used her industry clout to champion “Argentina, 1985,” a project about the trial of the military juntas that ruled her birthplace.
“It is consistent with her ethos, which is to make sure that she’s always speaking for the unrepresented, for the people that can’t speak for themselves,” he says. “I really look forward to seeing where she lands next. Whether it’s a global studio or her own company, she’s going to continue to innovate and be a powerful voice for underrepresented communities.”
While industry text message chains and Slack conversations have been swarming with speculation about what happened and where Alonso will land next, there hasn’t been a significant public uproar.
“I think people are nervous to rock the boat,” one veteran producer, speaking to Variety on the condition of anonymity, surmises. “Nobody wants to upset Disney.”
Another industry leader questioned what impact Alonso’s exit could have on her forthcoming memoir, which was originally set to be published by Disney’s Hyperion Avenue imprint in May.
“If you give someone of that caliber a platform like a book and presenting this person as a shining example — where they can be used to not only make the brand look good but to also empower the next generation — you don’t want that to be tarnished on the way out,” the executive says. “It feels inconsistent.”
Regardless of any possible mitigating circumstances, the veteran producer sees Disney’s decision in cut-and-dried terms.
“Plenty of people in this business believe that they are indispensable and fly too close to the sun, and then are shocked to find that they are no longer in a job,” this producer says. They add that while Alonso’s track record is certainly “extraordinary and impressive, and she’s earned the right to be outspoken, I don’t think anybody earns the right to breach their contract.”
Alonso’s messy exit would be bad enough for Marvel, but it comes amid fierce headwinds from all directions. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” with global grosses limping to the $500 million mark, is unlikely to break even in its theatrical run, making it the first non-pandemic era money loser for the company. That film was the latest in several Marvel titles (from “Thor: Love and Thunder” to “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law”) to weather criticism for second-rate visual effects — one of Alonso’s key domains — as VFX artists have repeatedly called out the studio, alleging it forces them to accept impossible hours and cut-rate pay.
Meanwhile, one of “Quantumania’s” stars, Jonathan Majors, was charged on March 26 with multiple counts of assault and harassment of an unnamed woman. The actor’s lawyer says there is video evidence that exonerates him, and the case is pending. But Majors’ character, Kang, is meant to be Marvel’s newest Big Bad. He’s shot Season 2 of “Loki” with Tom Hiddleston, set to premiere later this year, and he’s due to headline “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty” in 2025. A criminal trial of one of its newest stars is exactly the kind of headache Marvel does not need.
Furthermore, Disney currently has no timetable for naming an executive — or executives — to take on Alonso’s duties, even as several titles — like this year’s “The Marvels” and 2024’s “Captain America: New World Order” — work their way through the Marvel pipeline.
“It’s certainly a big position to try to replace,” Latcham says. “It’s a really massive job.”
Matt Donnelly and Marc Malkin contributed to this report.
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