Michael Jackson biopic to spend a record $120 million in California under state tax credit program

Michael Jackson onstage
Michael Jackson performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena. A film about his life spent the most of any movie in the state of California and will garner a record tax credit.
(Rusty Kennedy / Associated Press)

A Lionsgate Entertainment film about the life of singer Michael Jackson is on track to break records for spending under California’s film tax credit program.

The movie known as “Michael” — directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jackson’s nephew Jaafar Jackson — is projected to spend $120 million on crew wages and vendors, according to the California Film Commission, which administers the state’s film and TV tax credit program.

California has allocated $21.1 million in tax credits to the Santa Monica-based studio for “Michael.” That exceeds other top spenders in the state tax credit program for features from previous years, including Walt Disney Co.‘s “Captain Marvel” ($119 million) Paramount’s “Bumblebee” ($102 million) and Netflix’s “The Gray Man” ($102 million).

Michael Jackson, known as the King of Pop, died at aged 50 in 2009. The pioneering singer’s later years were mired by allegations of sexual abuse of boys that became the subject of the documentary “Leaving Neverland.” Jackson and his estate have adamantly and repeatedly denied the allegations.


There have been other commercially successful retellings of the singer’s career recently. Such as the 2021 Broadway show “MJ the Musical.” The show received four Tony Awards, including the lead actor in a musical award for 22-year-old Myles Frost.

The California Film Commission said “Michael” is among 24 independent and studio film projects selected for the latest round of the state tax credits. Those features will generate an estimated $423 million in “qualified” spending and $662 million in overall spending across California, the group said.

The production will have a cast of 65 and 300 crew members, and is expected to film over 80 days in California, primarily in Santa Barbara.

Michael Jackson’s nephew Jaafar Jackson was cast in the upcoming biopic on the King of Pop. The film is directed by “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua.

“The program is an important tool for maintaining our competitiveness and curbing runaway production,” California Film Commission Executive Director Colleen Bell said in a statement. “We are working harder than ever to keep entertainment production here in California, where it belongs.”

The other biggest allocations in the latest round included a $13.8-million tax credit for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s “The Thomas Crown Affair”; and $11.3 million for an untitled Disney project.

In all, the California Film Commission received a total of 58 applications and has reserved $81.7 million in tax credits for the 24 conditionally approved projects.

Michael Jackson’s nephew Jaafar Jackson was cast in the upcoming biopic on the King of Pop. The film is directed by “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua.

The state allocates $330 million annually to keep productions from shooting elsewhere. Under the program, filmmakers can recoup 20% to 25% of spending on qualified costs, such as money spent building sets and hiring crews, and can then use the credits to offset state taxes.

California has been working to increase the attractiveness of its tax incentives. The state lost out on nearly $8 billion in economic activity as a result of so-called runaway production, according to an estimate last year from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) for the Motion Picture Assn., a trade body for the major studios whose members have benefited from the credits.