Actors Ashli Haynes, Holly Cinnamon, and Kyra Jones are anxious, tired and frustrated that they are still on strike.
It’s been over 120 days since the WGA went on strike and more than 50 days since SAG-AFTRA walked off set, and it has been a major disruption for everyone involved. While talks have resumed between the WGA and the AMPTP, there is still no foreseeable end to the strikes in sight. Film and television productions are paused, and folks out of work are struggling to make ends meet.
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Financial struggles and job insecurity always have been a concern for folk on the creative side of the entertainment business, but the strikes have exacerbated these worries. Haynes, Cinnamon and Jones would rather be working, but they believe they need to fight for what is fair, even if it causes them stress and anxiety.
Deadline has been on the frontlines since day 1, attending WGA and SAG-AFTRA picket lines and talking to writers and actors, giving them a platform to voice their feelings and frustrations. Haynes, Cinnamon and Jones — who is also a member of the WGA — spoke to Deadline about their experiences during the strikes, their thoughts on AI and how they have been making ends meet, and they reveal some shocking information about their time in the entertainment business.
Ashli Haynes and the Invisible Residual
Haynes scored her first lead role in the series Leimert Park, which debuted at Sundance in 2018. She was excited to have made the leap to lead and to work with Homegrown Pictures and Macro. The show subsequently became a BET+ original.
In addition to starring in Leimert Park, she landed a recurring role as Courtney in the Lena Waithe-produced BET series Twenties. “I was in five out of eight episodes for Season 1 and three episodes in Season 2. It was something I manifested,” she said.
Twenties‘ first season launched in March 2020, and it was renewed for a second season, but there was a delay in shooting due to the Covid pandemic. Haynes said that a lack of timely payments was even more daunting than the uncertainty of shooting during the pandemic. “Industry standard is you receive initial payment two weeks after the episode wraps,” she said. “As far as residual payments, you’re supposed to get your first residual checks between one to four months after the episode airs.”
But she claims that didn’t happen for her and the cast, saying no one received any residual payments for the first season until they were gearing up to shoot the second.
“Then all of a sudden those checks were in the mail,” she added. “Even though the second season of Twenties aired in December of 2021, we still have not been paid residuals for the second season.”
The series has not officially been canceled, but it also has yet to be renewed.
Haynes said that now with the current strikes, the situation has grown even more challenging for writers and actors and others trying to make a living. “I am stressed out. I have bills to pay,” she added. “However, the strike has been a long time coming, and I believe in fighting for justice and fighting for what’s right.”
To help, Haynes set up her own business — a mobile spiritual shop called The Star Magic School Bus. The business offers services like tarot readings, Reiki, sound healing and selling spiritual goods; she calls it her “refuge.”
For Haynes, she believes that television and film has to be a “collaborative effort.” “People at the top have to give a shit about everyone regardless of status. Without mutual support, the magic of cinema and television wouldn’t exist.”
We reached out to BET on the issue of residual payment, but they declined to comment.
Holly Cinnamon and the Five-Month Hold
Canadian actress Cinnamon got her break starring in Netflix’s Marvel series Daredevil. She played Julie Barnes, the object of Bullseye’s obsession, which allowed her to join SAG-AFTRA.
“I didn’t know a lot at that point,” she admitted. “I just joined immediately once I knew I had the job.”
She said that the lack of clarity around pay provided a “crash course” into the industry’s complexities. “With Daredevil, I had to put my schedule on hold for five months, and I couldn’t book any other work,” she said. “They often want you to hold a bunch of time that they’re not paying you for, and you only get paid once you are on set for that day or week.
“There was an episode where the casting director reached out to me and mentioned there was a reading of the script for the episode I was going to be in,” Cinnamon continues. “It was unpaid but optional. However, the casting director also told me the entire cast would be there, and the studio execs would be on a call. I could not get a copy of the script without going to this ‘optional’ and unpaid meeting.”
She added that working for free was “frustrating” and the unpredictability of residual income made consistent financial planning tricky. “I think the highest residual check I’ve gotten was just under $4,000,” she said. “The lowest one I’ve gotten was one cent. I never know how much it’s going to be, and I don’t know how it’s calculated. We need more transparency.”
She believes that the strikes are crucial for the industry’s future, though she admitted that she’s struggling. “I don’t have any security,” Cinnamon said. “I don’t have a huge store of savings if this strike lasts until the fall. I need to work to continue to pay my rent. I am going back to teaching yoga in hopes that will keep me afloat.”
She also highlights other issues including AI.
“I just don’t think AI can be a part of the creation process,” she said. “If there’s no humanity in something essentially about human storytelling, what kind of quality material can it produce?”
Cinnamon remains proactive and is working on her first studio album under her label The Female Gayze.
She hopes for a quick resolution and more information on determining pay. “I hope for more transparency and consistency around standard pay, residuals pay and how it’s calculated,” she said. “I want to see breakdowns of all the numbers.”
Kyra Jones and the AI Paradox
Jones joined SAG-AFTRA in 2020 after landing a coveted role alongside Taraji P. Henson in the series finale of Empire. “I was in an episode of Chicago Justice, a Wingstop commercial that paid well, but what got me into SAG was Empire,” she said. Jones also was in Showtime’s The Chi and has worked as a writer on series including ABC’s Queens and Hulu’s Woke.
She made her writing debut in 2021 but didn’t stop at acting. “I got staffed on the show Woke. That writers room was exactly 12 weeks, which is how many weeks you need to write on to get into the WGA and get health insurance,” she said.
She said her experiences unveiled the cracks in the system. “For most actors, unless you’re a series regular, you either get a day rate or you’re paid per episode, whereas with writing, it could be a weekly rate.”
Residuals proved an even more jarring issue. “I don’t think I’ve seen any residuals for The Chi,” Jones said. “My agents had to chase that down.”
She added that she’s worried that she will lose momentum as a result of the strikes.
“Not having career consistency has taken a really big toll on me… I’ve pretty much completely depleted my savings and accumulated massive credit card debt,” she said.
But she admitted that she has a back-up plan meaning she won’t be destitute. “I do have a part-time job at Northwestern University that’s helping me pay my rent. Thank goodness for that,” she said.
Jones is also worried about AI. “Studios don’t just want to pay humans. They want AI for quantity, not quality,” she said.
“I fear big-name writers, who are predominantly straight white men, will survive while those on the margins will be left out,” she said. “Would it be easier for AI to replace an executive or a writer? Clearly, it’s executives.”
However, she admitted that she has found a silver lining to the strikes. “I get joy out of seeing the solidarity within the community of other writers and meeting people that I probably would have never just randomly run into.”
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