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Was Marvel Studios' Producer Victoria Alonso Scapegoated on a Technicality?

By Alberto Cox Délano | Film | March 27, 2023 |

By Alberto Cox Délano | Film | March 27, 2023 |


I mean… mostly yes?

The problem with making obscene and ever-growing amounts of money is that whenever things start slowing down, as they are wont to do, everybody loses their goddamn minds. Ever since the first Avengers movie came out in 2012, the MCU itself has made over $23 billion dollars at the global box office, scoring the most financially successful movie ever and at least one billion-dollar grosser, per year, ever since (not counting 2020, of course). And that’s not counting all the money they’ve made in merchandising, which is probably also in the upper tens of billions of dollars.

As Phase Four of the MCU rolled around and the pandemic restrictions were lifted, its films have been received coldly by audiences. They have all been successful, or at the very least they will break even, including Eternals and Quantumania, but not successful enough (compare it, for example, to how quickly concert tours and festivals have been selling out at every tier and in every niche). The critical response has been mixed but, more importantly, people don’t seem to be emotionally involved with the post-Robert Downey Jr. crop of films. That is a very real threat in terms of long-term prospects because it threatens the sustainability of Disney’s main cash cow. It exposes the glaring flaws with the MCU’s way of churning out content, primarily, that the effects look like sh*t, and they have been looking like sh*t for over a decade now.

So, when people used to make a lot of money panic, they will always go for the easiest and most optically satisfying solution: Chopping heads, as high as you can on the pecking order without upsetting the system. That’s how Victoria Alonso, Marvel Studios’ President of Physical, Post Production, VFX, and Animation, saw herself fired. Since 2005, she had been part of the triumvirate, alongside Kevin Feige and Louis D’Esposito, that took Marvel Studios from being just license managers into the highest-earning production company in film history. Her firing sent shockwaves around the industry, and in the article by Sarah Marrs linked previously, she goes into the two main reasons that might explain it: That Alonso had created a toxic and exploitative relationship with VFX providers; or that she was chosen as an easy scapegoat as Disney is … well, overreacting after was just a normal downturn in publicity (as I was writing this, the accusations against Jonathan Majors began popping up).

If it is the former, that Alonso’s treatment of VFX providers was so abusive it might’ve kickstarted unionization processes among the guild, then her firing could be seen as a PR move by Disney and the MCU, either as a form of appeasement upholding the current system or that Alonso was just a bad apple. Except that would be the kind of corporate hypocrisy that isn’t very effective. As Sarah mentioned in her analysis, whatever the reality of Alonso’s practices is (and there might be some nuances in her case), the entire economic structure of the VFX industry is based on exploitation on the part of the studios, subjecting the artists to impossible schedules and races to the bottom when bidding. Disney’s entire history is founded on trampling over labor rights. The exploitation of VFX artists’ has been a known fact for over a decade now! If a toxic environment existed under Alonso, it is up to her to make amends for how she contributed to it, but it’s not like it would’ve been any different with anyone else.

So, it becomes ever more likely that she was scapegoated. Very likely Alonso put a bigger target on her back as she, a Queer woman, has been vocal in denouncing Ron DeSantis’s war on Queer people, and criticized Disney’s milquetoast response. It’s almost a law of the Universe: A large institution, like a corporation, will always start a purge by targeting its most prominent women, whether they deserve it or not.

But on Friday 24th, the “actual reason” for her firing was revealed, via an article on The Hollywood Reporter. For those who don’t know, let’s say that expecting Variety, Deadline or THR to be independent with regards to the major studios is like expecting criticism of Putin on Russia Today. According to the article (i.e., the official narrative by Disney), Alonso was fired because she was one of the producers of Argentina 1985, the Oscar-nominated film about the trial of the military juntas that ruled Argentina during its last dictatorship. A film which I found pretty, pretty good. Allegedly, her role as a producer, for a film funded by Amazon Prime, breached her contract with Disney, and she had been “repeatedly” warned about it.

Yeah, sure. Victoria Alonso is Argentinian, born in La Plata in 1965. Films in Latin America on the scale of Argentina 1985 are very hard to get off the ground, even for an industry as robust and experienced as the Argentinian one. Funding almost always requires the involvement of the film boards of several countries at some level. But with Alonso being one of the most prominent Latinas and Argentinians in Hollywood, it made a lot of sense that she would become involved in the production, using her connections to fast-track production and to give the film a broader platform. A story that couldn’t be more deeply personal to her, having gone through her childhood and teenage years under the last dictatorship (1976 to 1983, but an authoritarian downward spiral since 1973), and having participated in marches against it. In several interviews she gave in the run-up to the Oscars, she stated the same and claimed that she had been given Disney’s blessing to be involved in the project, in particular this interview from February by IndieWire. She stated the same in an interview to Clarin, one of Argentina’s biggest newspapers, from May 12th.

Considering that Argentina 1985 was shot during the pandemic, and with the long preproduction process that always precedes a movie, more so if it’s from South America, Disney’s case seems flimsy. They knew about her involvement for years but they only chose to exercise the breach-of-contract clause now? More importantly, this is not a film that would compete with the MCU in any way. It was a huge hit in Argentina, bringing over half a million spectators during its short theatrical window in late September and October, but it was clear from interfering with the box office collection of Wakanda Forever, for example.

More importantly, it’s a movie that is meant as an awareness tool for all audiences. It’s not made to compete for box office numbers or streaming figures, but to be seen year after year after year, for Argentinians and South Americans in general to remember, learn and relearn what happened. It can perfectly coexist with MCU fare. For that matter, they don’t even compete for the same awards. Worse still for Disney, they could’ve drafted contractual exceptions with Alonso at any time; she wouldn’t be the first producer to be involved in different projects for different houses, because that’s just what producers do. All of this reeks of lawyers going for the letter of the law in opposition to an effective PR narrative. At best, they could argue that her involvement distracted her from her obligations to the MCU and that’s why the CGI looks so shitty. But come on, the MCU’s was never known for having standout VFX.

It looks more and more likely that Victoria Alonso was scapegoated, but it was a sacrifice that only made more problems for Disney and the MCU, as she mulls legal action.