Screenwriter John Ridley is fresh off an Oscar win for 12 Years A Slave, and has courted a bit of controversy surrounding some reported friction between him and the Best Picture winner’s director, Steve McQueen. His upcoming film, a biopic of ground-breaking rock legend Jimi Hendrix called All Is By My Side, has its share of controversy as well.

Ridley wrote and directed the film, which stars André Benjamin – better known as André 3000, one half of the great hip-hop duo OutKast – as Hendrix, and tracks the guitarist’s early years, right up to the edge of international fame with his band the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Don’t expect any of the classic rocker’s landmark hits, however, as the late Hendrix’s family – which keeps a tight reign on classic songs such as “Purple Haze”, “Foxy Lady”, and “Hey Joe” –  denied Ridley the use of any original music.

We first heard about All Is By My Side over a year ago, and learned about the issue with the music rights shortly thereafter. News on the biopic went quiet for awhile before it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. Now, Shadow and Act brings us our first look at André Benjamin as Hendrix, opposite Need for Speeds Imogen Poots. Watch the minute-long clip up above.

As we see in the clip, André Benjamin has dug into his character. Hendrix was known to be shy and insecure, as evidenced in this conversation with Poots, who plays paramour Linda Keith, a former girlfriend of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and, as mentioned in the clip, the subject of the Stones’ classic “Ruby Tuesday” and Jimi’s “Red House”.

Initial reviews for All Is By My Side out of TIFF were not overwhelmingly positive, but Benjamin’s performance has been noted as the film’s high point. As for the use of the music, the late musician’s estate released the following statement back when the film’s development was first reported:

[Experience Hendrix LLC] has made it known many times in the past that no such film, were it to include original music or copyrights created by Jimi Hendrix, can be undertaken without its full participation.

Experience Hendrix CEO Janie Hendrix, sister of Jimi Hendrix, and the EH board have not ruled out a ‘biopic’ in the future though producing partners would, out of necessity, have to involve the company from the inception of any such film project if it is to include original Jimi Hendrix music or compositions.

The big question is just how successful this film could be without those classic songs. Hendrix forever altered the landscape of popular music, and blew open the realm of possibilities when it came to the electric guitar. His early years were spent as a solid session player and backup guitarist for acts like Little Richard and the Isley Brothers, so some of their classic tunes could show up alongside the promised covers of Muddy Waters, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Given John Ridley’s status as an Oscar winner and the strong turn by Benjamin, there’s a good chance that All Is By My Side can overcome some of lukewarm early reactions. The film has been acquired for U.S. distribution by Open Road and XLrator, and while there is no stateside release date, it will screen at this month’s SXSW Film Festival.

All Is By My Side will likely premiere in U.S. theaters sometime in 2014.

Source: Shadow and Act