Pink Ribbons, Inc.
While its presentation may be lacking it succeeds at creating outrage over its subject matter.
The breast cancer “culture” is the subject of Léa Pool’s scathing documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. The doc rips apart any feelings of positivity one might have towards the big charities and companies (specifically the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Avon) that have turned breast cancer awareness into its own little industry. Pool’s documentary shines a light on the consequences of mixing charity and capitalism, and while its presentation may be lacking it succeeds at creating outrage over its subject matter.
The documentary opens with footage from various fundraising events for breast cancer awareness that range from marathons to skydivers “jumping for the cure.” The problems begin to show when a vendor starts bragging about the new product line that his employer introduced at the event. Relying on talking head interviews with different experts in breast cancer research, Pool quickly gets to the point. Foundations like Komen rely on big corporate backers to keep things operating and, in order to please their biggest donors, these charities have to sanitize their message as much as possible. As Pool shows the activist origins of the breast cancer movement, someone observes that people first marched for a cure before they had to run for it.
Pink Ribbons, Inc. then starts to delve into how the presence of corporate interests have poisoned society’s attitude towards breast cancer. The intertwining of a charitable cause with companies who need profits to survive means that no cynicism is allowed. The doc argues that the “tyranny of optimism” from these campaigns implies fault on the patient if they die from the disease. Pool shows this by interviewing a support group of women with stage IV breast cancer which brings out some of the film’s more emotional moments. Their diagnosis has them feeling singled out as an “angel of death” at support groups, and they point out that rhetoric like “fighting battles” and “surviving” only suggest that dying from breast cancer is wrong when it isn’t.
Pool and her subjects also highlight the problems going on with money going towards breast cancer research. A minimal amount of money raised goes towards prevention, and a lack of co-ordination between researchers leads to gaps in their studies. Many corporations that collaborate with breast cancer charities use carcinogens in their own products. A more cynical documentary would have suggested a malicious intent behind these corporations, but Pool uses the facts to highlight how integrity and conflicts of interest are pushed to the side in favour of the bottom line.
Pink Ribbons, Inc. may look uninteresting with its generic documentary format, but the content easily does all of the work. Some of Pool’s examinations of environmental factors as a cause for breast cancer could be up for debate, but their presence is used to explain how much we don’t know about breast cancer. No one really knows what causes cancer in the body, and the for-profit mentality hurts research more than it helps (as someone explains, how can Komen come out fighting for cleaner air when Ford is one of its sponsors?). It makes for a highly informative documentary, and anyone who sees it will certainly be suspicious of breast cancer campaigns afterward.