At this year’s Academy Awards, Victoria Alonso was overwhelmed.
The veteran Marvel Studios executive and producer of the nominated film “Argentina, 1985” was stopped on the red carpet, posing for photographers assigned to capture top executives on Hollywood’s big night. But something shocked her.
“Look at this! Two women!” Alonso said of the female photographers hired for the gig (as in most corners of Hollywood, women are outnumbered by men on the photo line). Emotional, Alonso insisted the pair put down their cameras and pose for a photo with her in front of a giant Oscar statuette. As they all smiled, she told them, “We’ve worked so hard to get here, and we’re not going anywhere.”
Eight days later, she was fired as Marvel’s president of physical production, post-production, VFX and animation, three individuals familiar with the matter told Variety. The shakeup came as a surprise to many in show business and within the vast Marvel comic book fandom (a community prominent online and in person at the many multiplexes where the studio releases its films). Her dismissal has raised numerous questions about behind-the-scenes workings at the prized content engine, and with them, another unfavorable news cycle as Disney CEO Bob Iger attempts to stabilize its parent company amid economic unrest.
While the cause of Alonso’s termination is unclear, the sources said, the decision was made by a consortium including human resources, Disney’s legal department and multiple executives including Disney Entertainment Co-Chairman Alan Bergman (to whom all of Marvel Studios reports). Alonso’s longtime boss and Marvel chief creative officer Kevin Feige felt mired in an impossible situation, one source added, and ultimately did not intervene. Alonso was blindsided, another insider added.
A representative for Alonso declined to provide comment for this story. Marvel Studios had no comment.
Alonso joined Marvel Studios in 2006, three years before Disney acquired the label for $4 billion. Over 17 years, she has been a fixture under chief creative officer Kevin Feige, standing beside Feige’s right hand and co-president Louis D’Esposito. Simultaneously, she worked to become a brand on her own – a rare openly LGBTQ person and woman of color in a visible leadership role, known for her fiery passion and outspokenness over diversity and inclusion in Marvel’s storytelling.
She has been honored by media watchdogs and visual effects communities alike and is about to publish a memoir about her corporate ascent, the aptly titled “Possibility Is Your Superpower” (which is still set for release at the Disney book label Hyperion Avenue).
Where, then, in all of the multiverse did this dramatic fracture occur?
Numerous sources familiar with Marvel pointed to the tremendous pressure the unit has been under over the past few years to deliver compelling content not just to theaters, but in the form of new streaming shows intended to bolster Disney+. In 2021 and 2022, Marvel unloaded an unprecedented torrent of comic book adventures, releasing 17 titles — seven movies, eight streaming series and two TV specials — over 23 months.
That breakneck distribution schedule, a product of the pandemic and the need to constantly feed Disney+, was not of Alonso’s making, and Marvel was far from the only studio tasked with delivering feature-level content for a newly launched streaming service. But it was Alonso’s job to get each of those titles through Marvel’s gargantuan post-production process, and by the summer of 2022, cracks began to show in the company’s seemingly impervious armor.
Starting on Reddit, followed by a series of stories published across the internet, visual effects artists began to loudly complain about Marvel’s demanding post-production schedules. Complaints ranged from unrelenting overtime to chronic understaffing to the inability to avoid delivering substandard work due to constantly changing deadlines, but some singled out Alonso as a “kingmaker” who would blacklist artists who have “pissed her off in any way.”
One visual effects artist recently told Variety that the biggest issue for them was Marvel’s inability to provide clear guidelines.
“The show I was on really struggled because it was an established character whose powers they were reconceiving for the MCU,” the artist said on the condition of anonymity. Most complaints, they said, came down to one refrain: “Marvel doesn’t figure shit out beforehand.”
A different senior VFX artist threw cold water on the idea that Alonso would single out individual artists: “The idea of a very senior exec terrifying rank and file artists, per some reports, feels a bit off,” they told Variety. Above the line, three different up-and-coming actors in the MCU agreed that Alonso was only a supportive force on set.
“She was the epitome of professional, and knows her stuff,” said one former Disney film executive.
Still, the drumbeat that Something Is Rotten in the State of Marvel Studios only grew louder with the release of “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” a film that finished shooting over a year before it was due in theaters and still weathered repeated criticism for “generic” visual effects that looked like “CGI glop” and were “very flat and cruddy-looking.” Even more critical: The movie has grossed $463 million globally to date, the worst performance of the “Ant-Man” franchise and a figure that means that it will struggle to break even in its theatrical window.
That’s the wrong trajectory for a studio that Disney has come to rely upon as an unshakable box office cash machine, one whose films have grossed over $28 billion at the global box office, especially as Iger makes plain that he’s cutting costs across the company. Insiders say the five Disney+ series from Marvel Studios that had been scheduled to debut in 2023 have been narrowed to three or four, with the others moving into 2024 and possibly beyond. That will take some of the immediate pressure off of Marvel’s post-production pipeline, and Alonso’s absence is not expected to affect the next Marvel title, May’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” which has nearly locked picture.
Alonso’s replacement was not immediately announced by Disney. Given her expansive portfolio of duties, it may take more than one person to fill her shoes. Executives assemble.
Angelique Jackson and Jazz Tangcay contributed to this report.
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