The terminology used by Komen and its ilk is not only disingenuous, it’s offensive.
Pink Ribbons, Inc., addresses a very important (and relatively unknown) issue that deserves to have a spotlight. Every year, millions of Americans participate in marathons, fundraisers, and events that are all aimed at raising awareness about breast cancer. On the surface, that is a just and noble cause—that is, until you begin to question what “breast cancer awareness” really means and what purpose it actually serves. Who doesn’t know about the dangers and prevalence of breast cancer, especially among women? Why not raise money for breast cancer research and treatment instead?
Director Lea Pool and her team focus on these exact questions and the relentless push from organizations and corporations to buy products displaying that ubiquitous pink ribbon. Pool takes direct aim at the Susan G. Komen foundation and its Race for the Cure, the largest and most well-known “awareness” fundraiser taking place annually around the country. Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker figures prominently into Pool’s film, coming off as a disconnected, Stepford-esque Barbie doll who is too oblivious to realize that the film is actually attacking her and her organization.
Pool spends the majority of the film exposing the rampant exploitation of the breast cancer pink ribbon on products ranging from yogurt to power tools. (A small tangent explaining the genesis of the ribbon, originally salmon-colored, is quite interesting.) Her thesis is that evil corporations slap the pink ribbon on their merchandise, assuming it will convince consumers to buy their products over a competitor. The film spends far too much time pointing the finger at corporations for their greedy behavior, but never backs up its claims. Obviously the companies and manufacturers are taking advantage of people’s willingness to pay a little extra to help a good cause, but Pool never proves that the money is not going to fund research or preventive medicine.
Pink Ribbons, Inc., also features a cadre of talking heads who each throw out assertions that are most likely factually accurate. However, their holier-than-thou attitudes and gruff personas make each of the women (they are all women; no men are interviewed for the film) come off as condescending and insulting. While one wouldn’t expect a documentary to take a wholly neutral position on such a volatile topic, it doesn’t help anyone’s cause to espouse hyperbolic contentions on par with Michael Moore.
Where the film does excel and make a real connection with the viewer is when a group of Stage Four breast cancer patients are asked for their take on our awareness-happy culture. People afflicted with Stage Four breast cancer are terminal, and each of the women interviewed understands and accepts that they will die from their disease. With incredible grace and dignity, the women talk about what it’s like to hear that someone has “won” their battle with cancer. So, does that mean they will “lose” their battle with cancer? The terminology used by Komen and its ilk is not only disingenuous, it’s offensive. These women’s stories are the heart of the film.
Though it is not a perfect documentary, Pink Ribbons, Inc., does bring an important topic center stage. It would have been nice if Pool had spent more time researching and less time witch-hunting, but the film works regardless. | Matthew Newlin