We’re not quite sure how the Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps doing it movie after movie, but Black Panther now stands as one the MCU’s best of the whole series.

In the very capable hands of Creed director Ryan Coogler, the film follows in the tried and true Marvel footsteps, with amazing visual effects and outstanding action sequences. But the masterful storytelling and empowering messages, especially with the strong female characters, are so incredible, it really does knock your socks off.

Taking place right after Civil War, the story centers on T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is to take the throne in Wakanda now that his father has been killed. We get to see the mythical African country, which has been hidden away from the rest of the world and thrived with its amazing technical advances, thanks to the vibranium coursing underground. T’Challa is supported by his mother (Angela Bassett), sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), the general of his army (Danai Guira) – and his love interest (Lupita Nyong’o), who also acts as a missionary outside Wakanda to help her fellow people in need.

For the most part, Wakanda stays out of any global conflicts, but their way of life is threatened by mercenary Klaue (Andy Serkis), who has stolen their vibranium and plans to sell it to the highest bidder to make a powerful weapon. Klaue is also in cahoots with street thug Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), whose mysterious past is connected to Wakanda. T’Challa must stop them before too much is exposed and the vibranium gets into the wrong hands.

At the recent press day, we sat in on the press conference with the cast, director Ryan Coogler and Marvel head honcho, Kevin Feige. Here are some things we learned about Black Panther.

On getting the call to play Black Panther:

CHADWICK BOSEMAN: The initial phone call from Kevin Feige, Louis D’Esposito, Nate Moore and the Russo Brothers was one where they essentially said, “We want to bring your character into the Marvel Comic Universe as a stand-alone, but this is the best way to introduce him in Civil War.”

KEVIN FEIGE: I think you hear people say this all the time when you’re in a setting like this, but he was the only choice. It may not have been this fast, but in my memory, we were sitting around a table, we were coming up with the story of Civil War. Nate Moore, our executive producer suggested bringing in Black Panther because we were looking for sort of a third party who wouldn’t necessarily side with Cap or side with Ironman. Almost instantly, we all said Chadwick – at least in my memory, although maybe it was the next day. We got him on a speakerphone right then. He was in the back of a limo… where were you, in Switzerland?

CHADWICK BOSEMAN: We were in Zurich, yeah, in Zurich. I was coming off of the red carpet for Get On Up. My agent was like, “You’ve got to get on the phone.” The crazy thing is I didn’t even have international calling on my phone until that morning.

On being badass Wakanda women:

ANGELA BASSETT: You know, in African culture, they feel as if there is no king without a queen. And I think in this story, it highlights the queen, the warrior, the general, the young sister. I was so proud to have my daughter, and my son [see the movie] because in their faces, and in their spirit, they were feeling themselves.

DANAI GURIRA: When Ryan sat me down and talked to me about his vision, and the story, and the characters, and the women, I was just floored, you know, because you don’t actually get to hear that often. It embodied with us being on the continent, women from the continent, but very developed, very complex. It was amazing. The whole – the concept of [the Wakanda women soldiers], and then to see them come to life, and then these astounding women who I started training with. And you know, one by one – like, I was the first one to get my head shaved, in theory, it sounded amazing. Then like I walk in – you know, you go into the restroom to wash your hands, and you look up and go “And what the…?” It took a few days. And then all the girls started coming in, we’d all been balded, one by one. You know, and it was just like everybody got their caps on. And then we just – and then the pride started to grow.

This pride around it, and this sort of embracing of this — this sort of symbol of power in these women. And the beauty of how he wrote that moment — I loved that moment where she like, doesn’t want a wig. She doesn’t want to cover up. This is her joy, and her pride – with that bald head with that tattoo on it. You don’t have to have hair to be beautiful. There are so many great things I could say about how Ryan developed these women characters and allowed us to collaborate. I feel really blessed about and excited.

On Shuri being smarter than her brother, T’Challa:

LETITIA WRIGHT: What I love about it, as well, with how it was written is that the men are always behind the women. No one’s undermined like, “You shouldn’t be in technology, and you shouldn’t be in math.” They’re like, “No, go ahead.” T’Challa is like, “Go ahead, Sis. This is your department. This is your domain.” And I kill it. She’s cooler than him, but not smarter than him. .

CHADWICK BOSEMAN: I want to speak to that. When you talk about what Wakanda is, and what it would have to be in order to progress to the place that we saw – even though we’re talking about a fantasy – the idea of an unconquered nation, that has not been, you know, tampered with by the various means that it would have been tampered with; the idea of the next generation being smarter, being better than you – is a concept that they would have evolved to that – you know, so even though we’re in the same generation, she’s my younger sister. She benefits from whatever I have reached, so you want your sons and daughters to be better than you were.

My older siblings, they raised me, so to a certain degree when I say, you know, I allow her, I’m meaning it like you see the genius that is inside the people that come after you. If you have an ancestor around, they’re looking at you like “I know you’re looking up to me, but we’re looking up to you.” That is an African concept.

On the balance between comic-book action and deep, socially relevant themes:

RYAN COOGLER: I grew up loving comic books. I love not just comic books, but I love pop culture. I love toys, actions figures, video games, all of that stuff. When I got older and realized that I wanted to make movies, right, that’s how I fell in love with internationalism, and cinema that left you with something to chew on, something to think about. I think the best versions of those stories is to do both things. When I came and sat down with Marvel, after speaking with Nate a little bit over the phone, and meeting him, I was very honest with Kevin. You think of Marvel like this big, huge studio, but it’s really just Kevin and his two friends. That’s really all it is. I didn’t expect that. As I got to know these guys, specifically Kevin, he’s all about making something that entertains people. He was very encouraging and I was getting notes while we were working on this and then making more interesting, make it more a person and be able to push it.

KEVIN FEIGE: There are other things in the film that have been relevant for centuries, but the truth of the matter is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and the whole Marvel bullpen created Wakanda and created T’Challa and created Black Panther and made him a smarter, more accomplished character than any of the other white characters in the mid 1960s. They had the guts to do that in the mid-1960s. The least we can do is live up to that and allow this story to be told the way it needed to be told and not shy away from things that the Marvel founders didn’t shy away from in the height of the Civil Rights era.

On visualizing the beauty and splendor of Wakanda:

DANAI GURIRA: I think what was really fascinating and like almost very emotional for me being that I’m Zimbabwean and that’s something that you always kind of want. You see the power and the potential of where you’re from, but you see how skewed it’s viewed by the world and how misrepresented it is and how distorted it is or received by the world so often. So to see this, it’s kind of a salve to those wounds to see this world brought to life this way and to see all the potential and power of all of the different African culturalism and aspects being celebrated. It’s a birth of things that we’ve been seeing forever around the continent that we see when we’re there. We see beauty, we see power, we see potential, we see ability, we see resources, but they are never exhibited and then to put it on sort of a Marvel epic scale of the exhibition it’s like, it really salves wounds in a really deep way.

On being the token white guys:

ANDY SERKIS: Actually we were just talking about that earlier on and it was very funny, reminded me of a story before we were about to do our scene. Ryan came up to us and said, “You know, I’ve never actually directed two white actors before.” It was kind of hilarious, but at the same time it was just like fuck that’s tragic, you know? It was kind of insane and kind of like weird, but it really was, I mean it was an incredible experience working with Ryan. He is one of the most brilliant — wonderful, warm, humble, incredibly clever, articulate visionary directors. It was just an incredible experience. I just think this film is so important and to be able to be part of something that is so groundbreaking and yes should have been made many years ago, you know, but now is the time and now is a brilliant time because things are changing rapidly in every single aspect of filmmaking and so it should and the needle should swing right the other way because we need to really change things.

MARTIN FREEMAN: I was very pleased that Ross had his kind of moment of hero… He has his little Hans Solo moment. I was really pleased and I thought that was generous on the film’s part and I thought it was, because like Andy says, you know, we’re not short of white heroes in movies, you know, so I thought to make one of the two white characters, you know, a bit of a hero I thought spoke very well of them actually.

On the female power in Black Panther overall:

LUPITA NYONG’O: I love about the way this film represents women is that each and every one of us is an individual, unique and we all have our own sense of power and our own agency and we hold our own space without being pitted against each other. I think that’s a very, very powerful message to send to children, both male and female this idea. I think often times in movies we fall into that trap where women, there’s very few of us and then we are against each other. There’s a competitive spirit and stuff like that and this film freezes all that. We see women going about their business and supporting each other, even arguing with each other, you know; having different points of view, but still not being against each other and I think that’s extremely important and in so doing the fact that in this film there’s so many of us, we really get a sense of the fabric of Wakanda as a nation and we see women along side men and we see how much more effective a society can be if they allow women to explore their full potential, yeah.

RYAN COOGLER: Just to add to that, speaking of some folks that were involved with the film who aren’t here to speak for themselves, this film has involvement from brilliant women all over from start to finish. As I said, Kevin’s right hand is Louie Esposito, with his left hand is Victoria Alonzo, who is amazing. From day one, we hired women who were the best person for the job. They weren’t hired because they were women, they were hired because they were the best for the job and that was our cinematographer Rachel Morrison, our costume designer Ruth Carter, production designer Hannah Beachler and our assistant director, who was responsible for getting her team going, Lisa Satriano. The film was edited by Michael Shawver and Debbie Berman who is from South Africa. Working with these amazing women, I was incredibly blessed, to have their perspective and had their fingerprints all over it. When you saw all those frames, when you saw all that stuff, you know, that presence, you know, over half of the society, over half the population; you know what I’m saying, it was there constantly and in full effect.

Watch the entire Black Panther press conference here, courtesy of Superhero News:

Black Panther roars into theaters this Friday. Don’t miss it!