Documentary Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon Released to Home Entertainment

A documentary about the life of Johnny Cash is now available through On Demand and digital platforms.

By Nancy Flory Published on June 10, 2023

Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon was released On Demand and to digital platforms last month. The Stream’s Nancy Flory recently spoke with the director, Ben Smallbone, about the documentary. Smallbone also shot most of the film and edited motion graphics and visual effects as well. 

The documentary begins with Johnny Cash’s hardscrabble sharecropper life in Arkansas. It tells the story of how The Man in Black went from sharecropper to successful singer in the Nashville scene. It also outlines Johnny’s very personal struggles with prescription drugs and alcohol. During his later years, Johnny returned to the faith of his youth. And that’s the story that Smallbone wants to tell in Johnny Cash.

The Faith of His Youth

“What I discovered over the last decade was there’s this other side of Johnny where his faith was such an important part of it all the way until the end of his life,” explained Smallbone. “It kind of redefined him and everything that he did from gospel albums, to a movie called The Gospel Road, to his final statement to the world — which was the Nine Inch Nails Hurt song and music video that was full of faith imagery of Jesus on the cross. We felt like that part of his story has never really fully been told. That was my passion, to figure out a way to bring that part of his story and ultimately what I think he wanted as his legacy to the world.”

A Legacy of Hope and Redemption

Johnny hoped to leave a legacy of hope and redemption. “He really wanted people to see [that] he wasn’t private about his struggles and his failings. He fell down hard and he sang about it, and he talked about it, and he stood up on the stage and told people about it. He wasn’t shy about that. And I think that’s something that we need to hear more than ever, that there is hope, that there is redemption, and that we have a second chance. I think in these dark days, the last three years since COVID, it’s been a really difficult time for a lot of people. I think any message of hope and redemption is more important than ever.”

God Can Change Lives

Cash’s redemption story offers hope to listeners, to anyone. “I believe God has the power to change people’s lives. No matter how far gone or down you are that there’s hope in that.”

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Smallbone says that people may challenge or question the validity of the Bible, “but you can’t question what God does in somebody’s life.” He hopes audiences are inspired and start asking questions about their lives and their own story that they didn’t before watching the film. 

From Johnny’s Own Lips

The film is not just about Johnny’s conversion. It weaves in much of Johnny’s music and even includes Johnny explaining the different stages of his life. “It’s amazing to have all of these great interviews,” in the film. “We have some pretty incredible celebrities from Tim McGraw to Sheryl Crow to Alice Cooper [and] Marty Stewart. … [B]ut to hear it from his own lips with his own words kind of changes everything. Throughout the documentary, you’ll hear Johnny describing what he was feeling and what he was thinking throughout his story.”

Walk Away Inspired

Smallbone approached Johnny Cash in the same way that he would treat a scripted film. He wanted it to be different, unique. At times it feels like a drama movie with the visual experience and a musical experience. “We have a lot of music spread throughout the film,” explained Smallbone. But it’s not just another documentary. “There’s a lot more to it that just that. And I hope that people give [it] an opportunity and walk away inspired.”

Watch the trailer: 

 

Editor’s Note: Stream founder James Robison and Johnny Cash were dear friends. Johnny Cash opened for James Robison’s crusades a few times. Here is a picture of Johnny, his wife, June Carter Cash, and James Robison. 

 

Nancy Flory, Ph.D., is a senior editor at The Stream. You can follow her @NancyFlory3, and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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