Pink Ribbons, Inc.

C+ Documentary

Directed by Léa Pool

Breast Cancer kills nearly 60,000 North Americans a year. Even if yours is discovered early, and you do everything you’re supposed to do, it could still kill you. Yet organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure have turned it into an upbeat campaign, heavily themed on the color pink, to raise money for questionable purposes. At least that’s the claim of this National Film Board of Canada documentary.

Full disclosure: Breast cancer has touched the lives of many in my family, and my wife is active in the Breast Cancer Fund. The Fund, which concentrates on prevention rather than a cure, has no connection with Komen or other organizations criticized in this film. It turns up in the movie only in the closing credits, as one of the organizations thanked.

Director Léa Pool makes a persuasive if heavy-handed case against Komen, the Revlon Run/Walk for Women, and others. A large part of the issue involves how the money is spent. A curepinkribbonsinc, according to Pool and her assorted talking heads (which include Barbara Ehrenreich, Samantha King, and Dr. Susan Love), often means little more than a drug that will keep women alive for a few more weeks than did last year’s new drug. Companies investing in such "cures," of course, have little incentive for preventing breast cancer.

There are other reasons why some organizations don’t want to deal with prevention. It brings up issues of race, class, and environmental damage. That last one is the most damning, and the one that corporate sponsors most want to avoid discussing. Revlon, a major player in pink ribbon-style fund raising, uses known carcinogens in their products.

The film holds corporations accountable for philanthropy that is more marketing than altruism. One major retailer (I don’t remember which) advertised donating a portion of sales to breast cancer research. Only in the fine print was the amount revealed: one cent out of every purchase.

But there’s something unsettling about Pool’s approach. In addition to criticizing corporate flacks, she also comes down pretty heavy on the altruistic individuals walking, running, and otherwise raising money to help fight a deadly disease. It’s as if she’s saying "Look at all these fools running around in pink."

And boy, is this movie filled with pink. We see pink activists, pink-lit buildings, pink vacuum cleaners, and a pink Kentucky Fried Chicken. At least once, the overwhelming amount of pink onscreen made me feel like I was watching a badly-faded Eastmancolor print from the 1960s.

There’s no way you can consider this an even-handed report. Pool allows people on the other side to have their say and defend their positions, but I suspect that many of their best arguments left their answers on the cutting room floor.

Technically and artistically, the film is well-made, but unexceptional.

If you care about breast cancer, or about how corporations distort philanthropy, you should catch Pint Ribbons, Inc. But save some of your cynicism for the filmmakers.