Victoria Alonso is one of the most powerful women in Hollywood. As a producer for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she's put her touch on every MCU movie from Iron Man to The Avengers to the studio's latest hits, Black Panther, now in theaters, and Thor Ragnarok, released on Blu-ray March 3. But Alonso remembers what it was like to be a new voice in the industry just starting out, to have questions, and to need guidance when it came to navigating the challenging world of filmmaking while female. Which is why now, as Executive Vice President of Physical Production at Marvel Studios, she makes a point to reach out to the women who are following in her footsteps.
"I make myself very much available. If there's anything I can do in the process to help, I am there," Alonso explains when we chat on the phone. "And I don't say it just to say it. If you call me I will be there."
For women new to the Marvel way of doing things, like Black Panther cinematographer Rachel Morrison, production designer Hannah Beachler, or costume designer Ruth Carter, Alonso makes herself approachable. "Sometimes you just need someone to walk you through it, who it's safe to say certain things to," she says. "There are some of us that have a lot of experience and some of us with less, and sometimes you just need a safe place where you won’t be judged and you won’t be fired."
Many women know how difficult and scary it can be to ask for help, especially if the result could mean putting your job on the line. Alonso hopes to diminish those fears. "That’s what I’ve been able to do for the women who have come through our doors, to say I’m here and I mean it. And you can call any time. And you can check with them, I’ve done that. "
Of course, being available to her team members comes after the hiring process, which is still tricky when it comes to getting more women in the door. "Our conversation has always been, get the best person for the job," Alonso explains. "There are people that are great for this particular job but they don’t have the kind of experience that it needs for them to actually com and join us. Because these are super super complicated films to make,"
It's a double edged sword — you need to have more experience in order to get more experience — but Alonso and other execs at Marvel are determined. "The consistent conversation we have is, have we interviewed the same number of men as we have women? And sometimes you find the right fit just by interviewing. To not be considered is half the problem there."
Hiring equity can be especially challenging in areas like visual effects, where Alonso started out. For any woman starting out today in the same field, "I think she would face a lot of similar challenges," the producer says. "I think it hasn’t changed enough in visual effects. It’s pretty much male dominated." While Alonso does see more women at conferences and panels every year, she still often finds herself the only woman in a room. "I can tell you this though, it’s lonely. It’s lonely being the only woman, I wish I wasn’t," she says. "I wish I was surrounded by half and half. A room half of women and half of men."
As a producer, Alonso knows full well that behind the scenes equality is just as important as equality within movies themselves. And in recent Marvel films like Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, audiences have gotten to see more diversity on-screen. With Ragnarok in particular, Alonso is proud of having Cate Blanchett play Marvel's first female villain. "We are determined to have equality not just with heroes but with villains," she says. In addition to Blanchett's power-hungry Hela, the film introduced the badass Valkyrie, "who is just the fiercest warrior of Asgard," as Alonso says.
As for Black Panther, "Just about every woman in that movie was a superhero, whether we call them that or not," Alonso says. "Shuri was her own superhero, the Queen Mother, Nakia is the most amazing spy in the world. Okoye is the best general on the planet. They don’t have a Black Panther outfit, but they are the superheroes of Wakanda."
Black Panther's enormous success has been a source of celebration for Alonso and her Marvel team. "It’s really important for the world to see that superheroes come in all sizes and colors," the producer says. "There are young children who have never seen themselves represented, I think this is what this movie has been able to do for the audience. So I think it’s a triumph."
Audiences can look forward to seeing an array of complex women in the upcoming Infinity War, as well, Alonso says, adding, "The female characters and performances will amaze you." And with Brie Larson's Captain Marvel coming up soon as well, fans will get to see firsthand just how Alonso is helping to make the Marvel Cinematic Universe more female-friendly both behind the scenes and on screen.