When asked last year about her proudest accomplishments, Academy member and top-ranking Marvel studio exec Victoria Alonso had no hesitations: “I always say that both Black Panther and Captain Marvel [are] the two columns of my house of filmmaking, and of the legacy that I could potentially leave my daughter.”
So we know she was cheering when Anna Boden arrived on the scene as co-director of Captain Marvel (2019), the studio’s self-described “first female-led superhero film.” Boden’s movie debuted to $455 million worldwide not two weeks after Black Panther (2018) cleaned up at the 91st Academy Awards, where costume designer Ruth E. Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler won Oscars for their vibrant visions of Wakanda. These breakthroughs—and all the headlines surrounding them—formally declared what had always been true: that superhero stories are not reserved for one gender.
And if there was any lingering, archaic doubt, the release of Black Widow this weekend should take care of that. As Marvel stans will already know, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is not the only one of her kind. The predatory Red Room program churns out other Black Widows—young women who have been kidnapped, brainwashed, and converted into elite assassins. That’s where Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz come into play, and it’s their unconventional sisterhood that is brought to the screen by director Cate Shortland (a Marvel newcomer) from a story by Jac Schaeffer (the head writer for WandaVision), Ned Benson, and a screenplay by Eric Pearson.
We think Black Widow’s release is the perfect time to recognize some more of the women who are shaping the boundless Marvel Cinematic Universe, shaking up its style, and making sure that its diverse, global fanbase has the opportunity to see themselves as superheroes.
It just makes sense to start with Alonso, who’s been a key Marvel player from the very beginning. The film producer has made magic happen on every single MCU title since Iron Man, and she now serves as the studio’s Executive Vice President of Production. She’s diving into her thirtieth Marvel project in thirteen years... but who’s counting?
“It’s imperative that every kid has a character they can look up to. That on a day when they don’t feel up to facing the world, they can put on a mask, they can put on a cape, and they can pretend to be a superhero.” - Victoria Alonso
Last fall, Alonso joined us for an episode of Academy Dialogues to chat about her path from Buenos Aires to Hollywood and the complexities of being a Latin creator and to share a very clever story about how she’s dealt with antiquated gender expectations in the workplace. (Spoiler alert: A man once assumed Alonso was present to serve him coffee, not recognizing her as one of Marvel’s most powerful players. Big mistake.)
Also there from the start was casting director Sarah Finn. As casting director for every Marvel movie so far, she’s guided many of the decisions that now seem like no-brainers. Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man was Finn’s bold suggestion (at the time of his casting, RDJ hadn’t worked in years due to bad press). Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans? Both casting choices that Finn pushed for after initial disapproval from Marvel execs. And sometimes Finn keeps tabs of great auditions that were just not the right fit, then later redirects them into something better—like when she said no to Chadwick Boseman for the role of Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, but yes to him as the king of Wakanda. Finn has the daunting task of not just casting for single, self-contained movies, but for a sprawling, interwoven cinematic universe. It’s largely thanks to her foresight and creativity that things feel so smooth when worlds collide in Marvel movies.
And worlds seem like they’ll collide this fall in Eternals, when a group of omniscient celestial beings (including Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie) finally decide to intervene and help humans—and maybe even Avengers—in their hour of need. Writer-director Chloé Zhao enters the world of Marvel hot off her multiple Oscar wins for Nomadland, and Eternals is a shining example of the studio’s inspiring new trend of handing the behemoth blockbuster reins to indie filmmakers. (She’ll rocket from Nomadland’s $5 million budget all the way to $200 million for this project.) But it doesn’t seem like she’s letting the money get to her head. Zhao will stick to the filmmaking methods she knows best: “I shot exactly the way I wanted to shoot,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “On location. A lot of magic hour. Three-hundred-sixty degrees on the same camera as I did on Nomadland. It’s a bit surreal. I’m still waiting for the shoe to drop. It hasn’t. I think I got lucky in that Marvel wants to take risks and do something different.”
In that same indie spirit is Marvel’s tapping of Nia DaCosta, a fresh talent who will soon be the youngest filmmaker to direct an MCU movie. (She beats the previous record set by Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler.) DaCosta will take over for Anna Boden on the sequel to Captain Marvel, entitled The Marvels, which is currently filming and scheduled to release in July 2022. But we’ll get a sneak peek of the indie director’s bigger-budget flair this fall with Candyman, a job for which she was handpicked by writer and producer Jordan Peele.
And too many iconic superhero suit designers to name…
While only one costume designer has ever been recognized at the Oscars for their work on a Marvel movie (we’re talking about the history-making Ruth E. Carter for Black Panther, of course), the broad network of women who design unforgettable pieces for the franchise’s superheroes is nevertheless stacked. Just take a look at the filmographies of costume designers Alexandra Byrne, Judianna Makovsky (who have each worked on 5 MCU titles—and earned several Oscar nominations for other projects), and Mayes C. Rubeo (a frequent Taika Waititi-collaborator, on Thor: Ragnarok, Thor: Love & Thunder, and the Oscar-nominated Jojo Rabbit), just to name a few more.