/News 31.01.24

First Nations Spotlight: Queensland Creative Kaylene Butler

Kaylene Butler (Buwabuwa) is a proud First Nations Australian, South Sea Islander and Chinese (Umbie) woman from Queensland, Australia. Born in Rockhampton, Kaylene currently resides in the beautiful Whitsundays in regional North Queensland.

Having honed her skills as a writer, director and producer over 24 years – working across factual and scripted projects – Kaylene is known for her work on the internationally acclaimed crime-drama series Black Snow and climate documentary Alick and Albert.

Kaylene has made important cultural contributions to many homegrown and international projects, advising productions on implementing best practice approaches to their own sets.

“Golden rules: meeting the peoples of the Country, and engaging with Community on Country – getting permissions, spending time and being patient is the key,” explains Kaylene. “Most importantly, you show respect and prevent unnecessary barriers of misunderstanding when capturing sensitive and sacred stories of our ancient Songlines.”

Kaylene recommends that producers engage a Cultural Consultant and reach out to Traditional Owners before filming on Country. She emphasises the value of investing time in researching the people and their protocols, learning about their cultural ways.

“People must be respectful and be accountable when on someone’s Country. If you don’t know, always ask and seek permissions. Most importantly, implement a cultural safety plan, from pre-pre-production through to post-production.”

Kaylene Butler

Kaylene was a vital force on the production of Goalpost Pictures’ Black Snow, joining the team in development as a cultural consultant before filling the role of producer on the series. Having premiered in the Australia, UK, and US in 2023, the Stan Original series drew international attention for its focus on the Australian South Sea Islander community, which has rarely been featured on screen.

Kaylene Butler (front row, second from left) with some of the cast and crew of Black Snow. Image by Lisa Tomasetti, courtesy of Goalpost Pictures

“It was an honour to be invited by Goalpost Pictures to be involved as a cultural consultant, alongside Lucas Taylor, in the early stages of development in the writer’s room,” explains Kaylene. “Goalpost Pictures addressed the requirements of having an Australian South Sea Islander confidante to give a voice to our lost peoples of Queensland and her Black history.”

“From pre-production through to post-production, I played in more of the role of producer,” says Kaylene. “I assisted with cultural story development, community engagement, promotion, casting, costumes, music and post-production to carry authenticity throughout production. I was present on set every day, keeping an excited eye on our new screen actors and other cast and crew, we even had prayers during the murder and sensitive scenes.”

With a storyline so firmly centred on the Australian South Sea Islander community and its historical experience of ‘blackbirding’ or enslavement, prioritising cultural safety and engagement was essential. Kaylene worked alongside Cultural and History Consultant Marion Healy and Queensland writer Boyd Quakawoot to embed a robust approach to cultural collaboration in all facets of the production.

“My job was to be accountable and responsible, to represent our Indigenous people and communities -for us to tell our stories, with our uplifted voices in a proud, strong platform to the world,” Kaylene said.

“It was my duty of care as an Australian South Sea Islander and a First Nations Australian, to ensure that the narrative of the blackbirding was true to events, and that our families in Queensland and New South Wales were properly represented. I was also under obligation to showcase the Island ways of being – living and breathing Australian South Sea Islander characteristics.”

“Before production, more than 160 cast, crew and media participants sat for an Australian South Sea Islander cultural immersion workshop facilitated by Marion Healy. It was evident that learning about our people and history sustained the quality of performance and understanding of our Black lens way of storytelling. With full knowledge, participants all wanted to play a part and contributed their work ethic and their performances to 110% help tell our Australian South Sea Islander story.”

Kaylene Butler (left) with Director’s Attachment Christina Togo and Director of Photography Eric Murray Lui. Image by Lisa Tomasetti, courtesy of Goalpost Pictures.

Two of the productions Kaylene has worked on have had significant international debuts. Black Snow premiered at Content London in 2022, while documentary Alick and Albert – which tells the story of the unique relationship between Torres Strait Islander artist and activist Alick Tipoti and His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco – screened at St Tropez Cinéma des Antipodes and Cannes Cinephiles. Both these screenings offered Kaylene an understanding of the appetite for screen stories from First Nations perspectives.

“What a celebration!” Kaylene exclaims when asked about the screenings. “The Black lens is in demand. Audiences want an insight into what it means to be Indigenous in Australia, the challenges and ambitions, and in doing so, you get to walk in our shoes.”

Black Snow and Alick and Albert are available to stream on Stan in Australia. Black Snow is also streaming on BB4 in the UK, AMC+ in the US, Amazon Africa and TVNZ in New Zealand.

You can watch the full trailer below:

Screen Queensland can assist producers with more information on working in Queensland with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and stories. Please contact:

Danielle Ah Boo

Head of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program

[email protected]

+61 7 3248 0500