Gugulethu Sophia Mbatha was born in Oxford, England to parents Anne Raw and South African doctor Patrick Mbatha. Her name “Gugulethu” means “our pride” in Zulu. Her father left when she was one, and she was brought up by her Caucasian mother in the small town of Witney in Oxfordshire, where she attended the The Henry Box School.
At the age of 11, Gugu joined the local acting group Dramascope. As a child she had quite a busy afterschool life with dancing, acting and saxophone lessons. She joined the Oxford Youth Music Theatre in her teens. In 2001 Gugu won a scholarship to the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London. In her first year at the school she was selected to play Isabella in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.
Following graduation in 2004, she began landing guest appearances on TV shows such as Bad Girls(1999), Doctor Who (2005) and Marple (2007).
However, despite her screen success, she didn’t forget her love of the theater. Gugu landed the role of Juliet inRomeo and Juliet at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. She has also appeared on the Broadway stage as Ophelia opposite Jude Law in Hamlet.
Gugu's film credits include Larry Crowne (2011), Odd Thomas (2012), Blackbird (2014) and Belle (2014), in which she stars as Dido Elizabeth Belle, a woman of mixed race raised in an aristocratic British home at a time when slavery in England was still legal. She starred alongside Matthew McConaughey in the civil war biopic Free State of Jones (2016), in the crime drama The Whole Truth (2016) opposite Keanu Reeves, and the political drama Miss Sloane (2016) starring Jessica Chastain.
In 2017, she appeared in the live-action remake Beauty and the Beast (2017) and continued to work with Disney on another live-action movie in 2018 — the film adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's classic novel A Wrinkle in Time, opposite Oprah Winfrey.
In 2019, she joined the cast of the brand-new Apple TV+ series The Morning Show, which was immediately met with critical acclaim. For her performance as Hannah, she received nominations from the Golden Derby awards and the Black Reel awards in 2020.
In 2020, Gugu starred in films including Come Away, Misbehaviour, and Summerland. She is also featured in the Disney series Loki (2021) with Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson, although the name of her character is still unknown.