“You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and its girls.”

That’s a real-life 2014 quote from President Barack Obama, but it applies perfectly to the fictional realm of Wakanda. The advanced African nation from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is ruled by a warrior king who defends his homeland with the help of vibranium-enhanced armor and claws, but his superpowers are enhanced by the equally dynamic and brilliant women who are empowered by their culture — and now inspire ours.

In Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, Danai Gurira played Okoye, the stoic tactician and head of the all-female Dora Milaje secret service, while Letitia Wright costarred as Shuri, the little sister with a Nobel Prize mind for devising medical treatments, weapons, and gadgets galore. Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o exuded intensity as Nakia, a Wakandan “war dog” spy who wields charm and beauty in as lethal a fashion as her ring blades. And Angela Bassett brought a wisdom and fearlessness to the ear of the king as his mother, Ramonda.

Credit: Koury Angelo for EW

“It’s a nation that respects and reveres women,” Bassett, 60, told EW when we gathered all four women for a conversation. “They think of us not just as Queen but Queen Mother. Mother is nurturer and the first teacher.”

Forty-year-old Gurira noted that the power of the Wakandan fantasy is that it’s not impossible: “It’s never said, ‘Oh, you’re a girl, therefore you cannot. Boys do the maths and sciences.’ That happens a lot in the world today. Girls are not encouraged to go into those fields.”

Credit: Koury Angelo for EW

Wright, 25, said Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa, provides an example to men everywhere about how to treat the women in their lives. “Not only does he respect Shuri, but all the women,” she explained. “He respects his mother, he respects his general, and the lady he is pursuing. He holds his own as a man and a king, but he respects everyone’s section and what they’re doing.”

Women must also respect one another, Nyong’o, 35, said. “Watching the movie for the first time, I was seeing the different women occupy the same space and be their full selves, acting not with competition but with agency,” she continued. “Their personal motivations are what leads them forward. They are not eye candy. Although,” she says, smiling, “we do look pretty damn fly, I must say!”

For more on Black Panther and Entertainment Weekly‘s 2018 Entertainers of the Year, pick up the new issue when it hits stands on Friday, or buy it now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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Black Panther
Directed by Ryan Coogler, the 2018 superhero film is based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name and stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the king who rules over the Afrofuturist paradise of Wakanda.
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  • 135 minutes
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