05 February 2012

Pink Ribbons Inc. (2011)

Every October, North America is awash in pink, "for the cure." Pink Ribbons Inc, a documentary by Léa Pool, looks at the corporatization of breast cancer fundraising and asks some pretty pointed questions about how much money is raised and where, exactly, that money is spent.

In discussions with activists, medical professionals, fundraisers, marchers and others, the filmmaker seeks to answer why, after billions of dollars have been raised for "breast cancer research," are we no closer to a cure? More than one of those interviewed came to the same conclusion: you cannot cure something if you don't know what causes it, and no one is willing to research what causes it.

The most heartbreaking interviews are with a group of women with Stage IV breast cancer. No one can explain to them why their cancer metastasized or why their only option is to subject themselves to chemical therapies that may or may not extend their life by a few weeks but may also make them so sick that they cannot enjoy those extra weeks.

The film also highlights some particularly deplorable  campaigns (KFC and American Express really stuck out) and conflicts of interest (products emblazoned with the pink ribbon that also contain known carcinogens and/or endocrine disruptors).

Pink Ribbons Inc is in the same company as Food Inc, The Corporation and Bowling for Columbine -- films that look at our cozy relationship with big business and ask if maybe we shouldn't be doing things differently. As with many recent documentaries, Pink Ribbons Inc uses editing to get across some not-so-subtle messages that aren't otherwise explicitly stated. My favourite such moment featured a medical researcher, being interviewed midway through the San Francisco Walk for the Cure. In the foreground, she is speaking about the dangers of so much plastic in our lives; in the background, a participant is eating something from a zippered plastic bag.

The overall message of the film is to "take back the ribbon" -- to go back to the protests and to separate the corporate backers and big pharma from the key research. We took our daughter, who is 10, because I think it's critical for her to understand that there is a lot more going on behind the ribbon than a feeling of hope. When I asked for her opinion after the showing, she summed it up nicely, "I didn't know whether to laugh or scream."

To say that breast cancer is epidemic may be stretching it, but the fact remains that today 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed in their lifetime. We need to fix those odds; seeing this film is a good start.


For more information, visit the NFB site for Pink Ribbons Inc.