Fiery, mercurial and intoxicatingly beautiful, Carmen commands great attention at the parachute factory, where she beguiles the men and clashes with several of the women. Willful but fickle, she carelessly plays with Joe’s affections, ultimately ruining his life and contributing to her own tragic demise.
Known as the "Casanova" of the parachute factory, Joe is a handsome young soldier hoping to make his way up the ranks of the military. Though he has promised himself to Cindy Lou, his gal from back home, he becomes infatuated with Carmen Jones. As his obsession with Carmen grows, so does his violent temper, leading to his self-destruction.
Confident, powerful and cocky, Husky is a celebrity boxer heading to Chicago to fight a South American champion in a high-profile match. Intrigued by Carmen, he insists his handlers bring her to Chicago with them. Like Joe, he is hot tempered, but he channels his anger to victory in the ring, bringing him financial success and public acclaim.
Joe's gal from back home, Cindy travels all the way from their small town to deliver a letter from Joe’s mother saying that he and Cindy should marry. Sweet and unsullied, she reminds Joe of his mom. Despite her gentle disposition, however, Cindy possesses great emotional strength and determination; when Joe gets in trouble, she returns to rescue him and offer him a second chance.
Recently transferred from New York, Sergeant Brown is the swaggering new leader of the factory guards, making him Joe's superior. Competitive and aggressive, Brown vies with Joe for Carmen’s affection. When Joe frees Carmen, Brown locks him up for three weeks, in hopes of pursuing Carmen himself. But Brown’s spiteful, bullying demeanor eventually pushes Joe too far.
Carmen's friend, coworker and protective confidante, Frankie is also a singer at Billy Pastor's Café. Like Carmen, she loves to dance, and she enjoys the material benefits that come from her relationship with Husky’s manager, Rum Daniels. Suspicious of Joe and his temper, Frankie is the first to tell Carmen to drop him.
Frankie's friend at work and at Billy Pastor's Café, Myrt dates Dink Franklin and frequently socializes with Frankie and Rum. She often reads people’s fortunes in playing cards.
Rum is manager of the fighter Husky Miller. Though he enjoys the social perquisites of his position, Rum takes his job seriously and prioritizes Husky’s well-being. When Husky demands that Rum deliver Carmen to Chicago, Rum does all he can to obey his boss’s wishes.
Straightforward but unsophisticated, Dink is Rum's right-hand man on Husky Miller's management team. Dink is dating Myrt, though he lacks her ease in adapting to the high-brow lifestyle of Husky’s social circle.