In a bombshell announcement on Monday, Victoria Alonso, a long-time executive at Marvel Studios, “exited” the company. Alonso, one of the few high-profile female executives in film production, left for “unclear” reasons, per The Hollywood Reporter. Sources are saying that she was not fired. But her departure was definitely an industry shock. And while the public messaging isn’t that she was forced out, there will probably be more information in the days and weeks to come as the fallout ripples outside Disney and into more, er, hallowed halls than the Mouse House. So the question is why, after nearly eighteen years with the company, was Alonso unceremoniously departed?
Is it because she’s a nightmare micromanager terrorizing the VFX artists who work on Marvel movies?
Is it because Marvel has been on an unprecedented run of bad press over the last couple years, mostly related to the VFX industry?
Is it because Disney is under pressure from shareholders to cut Marvel’s increasingly insane spending costs?
Is it because Marvel got “woke” and Alonso, An Outspoken Queer Woman, is to blame for that?
A little of A, B, and C, and absolutely none of D, and anyone who thinks that needs to grow the f-ck up.
It’s true that Marvel has had a bad run over the last few years. Phase 4 was a mess, with divisive projects and increasingly palpable fan discontent spilling over just as the VFX crunch plaguing the entire industry hit a post-pandemic fever pitch. A lot of that got rolled up together, with people bitching about shoddy VFX in Marvel movies mixing with criticism of systemic issues of poor working conditions in the VFX industry. Marvel, as one of the biggest employers of VFX vendors in the industry and one of the most prominent forces in pop culture, became a prime target for the miasma of toxicity surrounding the VFX industry.
And Victoria Alonso is the center of that target because she was the long-time chief of VFX at Marvel, first as an executive vice president, and since 2021, as the president of physical production, which includes all post-production, VFX, and animation pipelines. She was the top boss of the part of the studio that has been heavily criticized on a number of fronts over the last few years. She was also the top boss of the division carrying the heaviest portion of the balance sheet just as shareholders have become more concerned about expenditures as Disney is still recovering from the COVID fiscal dip.
I’m not saying Victoria Alonso wasn’t difficult to work with, that she could be unpleasant, even toxic to the teams working under her (though I must also report that multiple direct sources have spoken well of Alonso, particularly as a champion of women in the workplace. Nothing is ever as simple as the good/evil binary). I’m also not saying that just because she’s an openly queer woman of color she should be proof against criticism.
But I AM saying that there is a LOT more to this story than just the VFX piece, and somehow among the three “founders” of Marvel Studios, Louis D’Esposito, Kevin Feige, and Victoria Alonso, it was the woman who got the boot while D’Esposito and Feige remain largely insulated from criticism, despite being fully privy to and aware of both the internal and external problems hounding their studio right now. In fact, it is kind of insane how many people insist Kevin Feige is “too nice” to get involved in the ugly arena of VFX politics, which involves a unionization effort meeting with strong resistance from every studio in the industry. Feige is not a stapler-chucking asshole, but no one gets to where he has, and stays there as long as he has, without being tough. See also: despite the turmoil at Marvel, he remains comfortably ensconced as co-president of the studio.
It's just not as easy as declaring every problem solved because Victoria Alonso has left, or was asked to leave, or however they want to spin it. The VFX vendors answerable to her might feel relief today, but thousands of others in the industry won’t be affected by this at all. She was anti-union, true, but so is every other studio chief in Hollywood, so the VFX unionization effort is not magically easier this week than it was last week. Similarly, VFX artists are not suddenly going to be paid a fair wage, or get overtime, and crunch conditions will not be improved, just because one studio boss is gone. The issues plaguing the VFX industry are just that: industry wide. The departure of one person (whether she was fired or quit) solves nothing except the stress levels of Alonso’s direct reports (some of whom, I’ve heard, are very sad to see her go).
In the same vein, firing Alonso doesn’t instantly fix Disney’s fiscal problems. It will take years to climb out of the COVID hole, and reducing Marvel’s expenditures is only one piece of that. Further, firing one executive is not how you fix a spending problem, you fix it by reducing Marvel’s production load. It’s not a coincidence that Marvel’s production output skyrocketed in the last few years, at the exact same time the VFX working conditions became untenable (because there is too much in the pipeline) and the CGI became distractingly bad (because there is too much in the pipeline).
What you DO fix by exiting one person is a PR problem. Most of Marvel’s bad press over the last couple years revolves around VFX, sh-tcan the head of that division and declare the problem solved. Shareholders will be happy because it looks like you’ve done something—rebalancing budgets is slower and less sexy than blaring THR headlines—and fans have a convenient target for their annoyance that their favorite pop culture thing is going through a rough patch. That target is especially sweet for some of those fans because she’s a politically active queer woman of color, so they can blame her for Marvel being “woke”.
Again, I am not saying there are not legitimate grounds to criticize Victoria Alonso. Even if she can’t fix every problem in the VFX industry, being a toxic boss only compounds those issues for those working under her (though it is wild how opinions vary, from people who adored her to despised her). And it’s hard to ignore the undercurrent of misogyny surrounding news of her firing, from online nerds crowing “ding dong the witch is dead” and vocally hoping Kathleen Kennedy is next (she’s not), to those reporting on this as if Alonso is solely responsible for the state of the VFX industry. Disney-Marvel has been under pressure from shareholders, from fans, from vendors, to fix a PR problem, and they did. Now let’s see if any of the actual problems get solved.