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The Oscar-nominated film Argentina, 1985 was at the center of last week’s sudden firing of longtime Marvel Studios executive Victoria Alonso, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
Alonso was one of eight producers on the Argentine historical drama, which was distributed by Amazon and competed for the best international feature Oscar. However, by assuming that role, she breached her contract — several times — according to sources. After repeated warnings, the situation came to a head the week after the Academy Awards and ultimately led to her termination. It was a seismic shake-up at Marvel, where for years Alonso was part of the holy trinity — along with Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige and co-president Louis D’Esposito — who led the Marvel Cinematic Universe to ever-greater heights.
According to insiders, Alonso breached a 2018 agreement that included the company’s standards of business conduct, which states that employees cannot work for competing studios.
Sources say that Alonso did not ask permission to work on Argentina, 1985, nor did she give notice. (However, an IndieWire piece published last month on the film stated that she did have permission.) When Disney found out about the project and the violation, her longtime service and veteran status led the company to give her a dispensation on the condition that she not work on the movie further. She was also not to promote it or publicize it in any way. The situation of a top executive working on a movie outside company confines was deemed serious enough to involve the management audit team and a new memo was signed, according to an insider.
A rep for Disney declined to comment.
Alonso’s attorney, Patty Glaser, released a statement after the initial publication of this story. Said the attorney: “The idea that Victoria was fired over a handful of press interviews relating to a personal passion project about human rights and democracy that was nominated for an Oscar and which she got Disney’s blessing to work on is absolutely ridiculous. Victoria, a gay Latina who had the courage to criticize Disney, was silenced. Then she was terminated when she refused to do something she believed was reprehensible. Disney and Marvel made a really poor decision that will have serious consequences. There is a lot more to this story and Victoria will be telling it shortly—in one forum or another.”
Argentina, 1985 premiered in September 2022 at the Venice International Film Festival, and soon the drama was on the awards track. Alonso then found herself front and center in the film’s campaign, attending screenings, sitting on panels and doing interviews.
According to sources, she was reminded of her agreement and her breach several times, but the campaigning continued. She even appeared on the Oscars arrivals carpet not as a Marvel executive associated with that studio’s multi-nominated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, but rather as Argentina, 1985′s producer, walking with the film’s director, Santiago Mitre.
What also rankled Disney executives was that while she was busy promoting Argentina, 1985, her purview over Marvel’s visual effects — as president of physical and postproduction, visual effects and animation production — was busier than ever.
Throughout the last year or so, as Marvel pumped out an unprecedented number of series and movies, a general impression emerged that VFX artists were not being well-treated by Marvel, attributed to factors including long hours, drum-tight deadlines and a lack of a singular vision.
Releases including the February film Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania were catching flak for subpar visual effects work while Alonso herself became more and more polarizing.
“You can only ask a person to stay until 1 a.m. working on VFX shots for so long before things start to break,” says one postproduction source. Another postproduction talent says they have avoided working with Marvel because of Alonso’s reputation for being challenging.
Still, she had her supporters, including Eternals star Salma Hayek, who called her the “best jefa ever” in a December 2021 post.
In any case, things came to a head post-Oscars, and Alonso was terminated for cause.
For the Buenos Aires-born Alonso, Argentina, 1985 was a personal tale. The feature stars Ricardo Darín as Julio César Strassera, the prosecutor who led the case against the country’s military Junta whose reign of military terror led to the disappearance of 30,000 people. “I’ve made a lot of stories about superheroes,” Alonso told IndieWire in the story published last month. “And I’ve always wanted to tell a story about what happened in Argentina, because I should have been one of those 30,000 people.”
Alonso’s firing shocked the town because of its sudden nature, and because the reasons for it were unknown. Some speculated that Alonso was being silenced because she was outspoken about Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in March 2022. “As long as I am at Marvel Studios, I will fight for representation,” Alonso, who is gay, said at the time, recounting at the 2022 GLAAD Media Awards of how she spoke with then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek for 45 minutes on the topic. Added the exec to the crowd, “So I ask you again Mr. Chapek: please respect—if we’re selling family—take a stand against all of these crazy outdated laws.” Disney took a stand against the bill, resulting in a clash with the state government and ultimately the loss of a special tax status. It is a move that will likely cost the company millions.
But other sources say that being vocal had only increased Alonso’s profile within the company. She was asked to represent the company on the board of GLAAD, joined the company’s Pride 365 leadership team and made a deal with the company’s publishing division to write a memoir.
In any case, the VFX industry will be closely watching what follows. Marvel is one of the most lucrative clients for VFX houses because of the scope of its work — its tentpoles regularly have in excess of 2,000 VFX shots, sometimes more than a whopping 3,000 per movie.
It is unclear who will take over for Alonso in the interim (at least some vendors are working with VFX producer Jen Underdahl for now). But insiders acknowledge whoever assumes her duties officially will face similar challenges as Alonso, who helped put out the unprecedented 18 films, TV shows and specials that Marvel released in 2021-22.
Says one VFX pro: “Whatever criticisms are being leveled against her, she’s not an island. Part of the problem is the aggressive release schedules.”
That aggressive schedule could already be in the rearview mirror, however, as returning Disney CEO Bob Iger has stated an intention to slow down Marvel’s output.
Carolyn Giardina and Aaron Couch contributed to this report.
This story was updated to include a statement from Alonso’s attorney.
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