Marvel's top woman exec on why Captain Marvel, Black Widow are just the beginning

Avengers architect Victoria Alonso says to expect more women on both sides of the camera.

Patricia Puentes Senior Editor, Movie and TV writer, CNET en Español
Writer and journalist from Barcelona who calls California home. She'll openly admit to having seen The Wire four times. She has a mild-to-severe addiction to chocolate and book adaptations to the screen (large or small). She's interviewed Daniel Day-Lewis, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Guillermo del Toro and Kenneth Branagh but is still waiting to meet Emma Thompson and Kathryn Bigelow. She's lived in Paris, Los Angeles and Boston. Now she's amazed by Oakland's effortlessly cool vibe.
Patricia Puentes
6 min read
Marvel Studios/Composite by Chelsea Shi/CNET

If you've seen Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Doctor Strange or any other of a number of MCU movies, you've seen films with Victoria Alonso's stamp all over them. And yes, she's also working on the much anticipated Avengers: Endgame.

15th Annual Visual Effects Society Awards - Arrivals

Victoria Alonso at the 15th Annual Visual Effects Society Awards in 2017.

Amanda Edwards/WireImage

She's been described as "part of the holy trinity that runs Hollywood's most successful superhero label," along with Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and co-president Louis D'Esposito. She's basically No. 3 at Marvel -- and one of the most powerful executives in Hollywood.

The native of Argentina moved to the US at only 19. She started her career as a production assistant and then worked in production at  Sony , DreamWorks, Fox and Paramount. She's held executive positions at Marvel since 2006.

In 2016, she was the first woman to receive the Advanced Imaging Society's Harold Lloyd Award, which recognized her achievements as a storyteller whose body of work embraces technology. In 2017, Alonso got a Visual Effects Society's Visionary Award in recognition of her contributions to visual arts and filmed entertainment.

Alonso was bobbing in and out of morning LA traffic when I caught up with her to talk about the studio's commitment to female representation in front of and behind the camera. I also asked her what took the studio so long to get a woman in the director's seat. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation. 

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The last time we spoke you talked about the responsibility you felt as EVP of production at Marvel. You pointed out the many Black Panther department heads who were female, such as Ruth Carter in costumes or Hannah Beachler at production design. Do you still feel the same responsibility?
Black Panther had 14 heads of department who were female and multicolored. But the responsibility continues to be the same. Just because you do it once, it doesn't go away. It's every day, every movie, every team. The idea is to try to have 50 percent male, 50 percent female. Just because you have one triumph, it doesn't mean you're done. You have to hopefully triumph 50 percent of the time. And I'm not the only one that has the ability to do that. Everyone has the capacity to create balance.

You've said Marvel movies are for everyone but you made Black Panther and Captain Marvel specifically for your 8-year-old daughter.
My daughter lives in a world that is multicolored. I think when her African American friends know her mom made Black Panther … that has been a huge moment of pride in our family, and joy. Then my daughter called me a change maker, which was pretty amazing.

We have very few superheroes that are female. Having my daughter going as the Wasp for Halloween was pretty amazing. I think children should have a choice. And sometimes we are lucky enough to be the ones that create the choices for them.

Did you ever feel like you were treated differently in your profession because you're a woman?
I don't know that I'm treated differently because I don't know me in any other way. I just every day concentrate on doing the best I can with all of the access that I have, and it's such a privilege to do it as a woman. I always consistently talk about all of the things that I am, instead of talking about the things that I am not. I am not a man and I'm OK with that.


Victoria Alonso and Robert Downey Jr. on the set of Iron Man 3.


How do you see mentorship as a way to foster other's careers?
I don't have anyone in particular that has been ushering my career per se. But I think that mentorship takes many, many faces. Sometimes it's knowing that you have the access to call someone to bounce an idea off of at a very important time in your life. It could be someone that's there for you your entire life, or someone who is there for a phone call. I do that, I would say weekly, for people. I've been very open about the fact that for as long as I can, I will continue to be accessible to the generations that are having difficult decisions to make. I can objectively try to help without wanting to gain anything from it.

Captain Marvel is co-directed by Anna Boden. But it took Marvel 20 movies prior to that one to have a woman in the director's seat. Why?
I don't know that I have the answer to why it took so long. I think it took as long as it needed to take. I think that we go for who we think are the best fit for that particular content, and again I think we're incredibly committed to the balance of 50/50. And it's not just behind the camera, it's at the helm, it's in front of the camera.


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And Cate Shortland will direct Black Widow. Is this a hint to how things are going to change at Marvel going forward?
I think it's a commitment of what's to come. We are determined to have more female directors. We are determined to have more heads of departments that are female and we are determined to have more balance in our characters so that everyone could be represented.

We have a pretty intricate world that we create and the right person has to be able to tell the story. For the same reason why it did take that long to have Ryan Coogler (director of Black Panther) come to our world. Or Taika Waititi (director of Thor: Ragnarok). They're men of color. So everything takes time, but it's really about the right person for the project, and Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are both the right people for Captain Marvel.

You were talking about this 50/50 female/male representation. Are age, background, ethnicity also being considered?
Of course. We are trying to make sure that everybody -- and when I say everybody, I put every single denomination, every diverse group, every type of human -- is represented. Slowly but surely that's showing some improvements.

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Is Hollywood shifting in that same direction?
Things are slowly changing. I see the commitment in conversations and at the upper echelons of a lot of institutions, whether the studios, the Academy, the unions. And the commitment of all of those people to try to make a change, and also to make it at every level. Because it's not as simple as I'll hire a female director. Well, that's just not a diverse group, that's just a female director. Now you have to have a crew that is diverse. If people don't have the experience to be able to support that director, that director may not succeed.

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It's the trickle-down effect that you have to have at every level, which means people have to have access at every level. And we find that sometimes it's easier to have a diverse group at a lower level because you can teach them. You can find people that don't have experience and give them the chance. And then hopefully, those people will continue to grow and will continue to be at the helms. But it just takes time. For many of us, it's something that we've been trying to do for a long, long time. Maybe it's not every single person, but there is a large majority of people paying attention to it and realizing how important it is.

What can you tell me about Captain Marvel and Black Widow?
Those two are two of my favorite characters, and hopefully, for Halloween, my daughter will ask me to have two of those outfits and I will make sure she looks pretty awesome. They're gonna be big movies ... and we're gonna put every single ounce of what we have to make sure that they're as good as they need to be, so every little girl out there can feel represented. 

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