Making a splash in an acclaimed series five seasons in, particularly one that’s a spin-off of an Emmy-winning show, is a feat. The Good Fight returned this summer following a fourth season truncated by the pandemic and with beloved original cast members Delroy Lindo and Cush Jumbo having departed the series. It felt like a pivotal time for the show from the creators of The Good Wife, Michelle and Robert King (who spun The Good Fight off from that acclaimed drama). Yet, within moments of meeting Carmen Moyo, a new associate at the show’s central firm, Reddick Lockhart, who dives straight into representing a feared drug kingpin, it was clear that The Good Fight had an enigmatic new star. Charmaine Bingwa, the Australian-Zimbabwean lesbian actor who plays Carmen, brings her whole self to the rich role.
“It’s not often that we see tales of Black women who were traditionally marginalized getting their own power back. I was particularly drawn to that,” says Bingwa, who in 2018 was the first gay woman of color to receive the Heath Ledger Scholarship for emerging Australian actors. “She’s somewhat of an underdog, and I probably relate to that in [aspects] of my real life because I’m African-Australian, born [in] Australia, with not many people reflective of my culture around, who wanted to pursue a career in Hollywood, who identifies as gay.”
A game-changer since it premiered in 2017, The Good Fight was forced to change course from the start in the wake of Donald Trump’s shocking win (the Kings wrote the pilot assuming Hillary Clinton would be president). Led from the beginning by Good Wife alum Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, the series is one of the few on TV that leans into social problems and unwaveringly interrogated the ills of the Trump administration. The latest season sees Diane confronted by her white feminist entitlement as she remains a named partner in a traditionally Black law firm amid a national reckoning around racism. As Diane battles with her law partner, Audra McDonald’s Liz Reddick, in one storyline, the taciturn and determined Carmen proves her mettle as a defendant whisperer and a force of nature in a legal argument.
“I try to bring my truth to every character. I think that’s why Carmen makes such an impact in the law firm, is because she brings her truth in such a traditional way. And she’s so proud of herself,” Bingwa says. “There’s not a part of herself that she doesn’t own. I think it really speaks to people.”
Bingwa, who shot her first scene of The Good Fight with six-time Tony winner McDonald (no pressure), already enjoyed a storied career in acting, the craft she says she will always be “obsessed” with, although she is also renowned for her vocal chops. She appeared in a 2017 Australian production of Doubt in the role for which Viola Davis was Oscar-nominated and created the web series Little Sista.
“I’m one of those people who is like, take your career into your own hands, especially with my intersectionality. I wasn’t sure what prospects existed for me,” Bingwa says. “I was like, I don’t think you can sit and wait, I think you should create your own destiny.”
“I had this kind of comedic dramatic idea about a girl who finds herself a greater meaning in life by volunteering in the Big Brother Big Sister program,” Bingwa says of Little Sista’s plot. “I wrote it and produced it, did all the things on it. It’s still one of the experiences I’m so grateful for because it taught me the craft from every angle.”
Bingwa, Wanda Sykes, and Tony Plana in The Good Fight
There are similarities between Bingwa and Carmen in that they take control of their situations. Carmen stands out as the trusted confidante of the firm’s explosive client Oscar Rivi (Tony Plana), with Bing wa even learning Spanish for Carmen’s scenes with him. But The Good Fight, a bastion of inclusion, has lacked a queer main character since Rose Leslie’s Maia left after season 3. With Bingwa inhabiting Carmen, there’s hope that the character might fill that void, but in a season in which the audience learned next to nothing about Carmen’s background and everything about her ethos through her actions and silence, there’s no indication of the character’s identity.
“I think she identifies as a work-first — this new sexuality that she’s bringing to the table,” Bingwa jokes.
“She doesn’t lead with her sexuality, [though] I think she has quite a magnetism about her.”
It was a big season for the show that took on the lost year of 2020 and the pandemic in its season opener before moving to a post-pandemic world. Bingwa arrived to set with legends Mandy Patinkin, CCH Pounder, and LGBTQ+ icon Wanda Sykes.
Photo by Christian Blanchard
“I was like, oh, my gosh, this Black gay woman is succeeding and being funny and has a rich family life and I’m sitting next to her,” Bingwa says. “I’m just so glad that she joined our show this season. She’s such an inspiration, especially for LGBT women of color.”
Now Bingwa is advancing visibility for Black queer actors herself. In August, Bingwa was cast in the upcoming Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) film Emancipation, alongside Will Smith.
“When I started acting, not that anyone explicitly said it, but it was kind of implicitly implied that [queerness] is something you should hide. That’s just not who I am,” Bingwa says. “So we’re in a much better place. I’ll keep rocking that rainbow.”
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2021 People of the Year issue, which is out on newsstands November 23, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.