In early 2012, when the Susan G. Komen For The Cure foundation announced its intention to cut funding for Planned Parenthood—a decision reversed after public outcry—the political fallout was, for many, the first time Komen’s philanthropic goals were broadly questioned. Though cancer activists had been on the case for years, suddenly the organization’s political and corporate ties came under much greater scrutiny, as did the amount of money allotted for administrative and promotional costs in relation to research. Léa Pool’s documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. was produced well before the Komen flap, but its release dovetails nicely with the shift in public sentiment toward the “pinkwashing” of breast cancer and the efficacy of awareness campaigns in fighting the disease. It’s a crude, angry battering ram of a film, much more concerned with counter-messaging than aesthetics, but it gets the job done.
Jumping off Samantha King’s book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer And The Politics Of Philanthropy, Pool sets footage of corporate-sponsored walks, runs, and jumps against reasoned testimony by activists, medical experts, and a Stage IV support group. Needless to say, the Komens, Revlons, and Avons of the world come off poorly in the balance, throwing events that increase awareness of Yoplait and Kentucky Fried Chicken more than an understanding of breast cancer—much less where all those research dollars are going. Pool’s favored subjects express discomfort with the terminology of the pink movement, with its reassuring bromides of empowerment and loaded terms like “fighting” or “surviving” the disease, but much more damning is the conflict of interest between breast-cancer organizations and corporate donors whose products may be part of the problem.
Pink Ribbons, Inc. speculates about the possible environmental factors contributing to the increase in breast-cancer cases, all while complaining about the lack of funding directed at that possibility. The hypothesis is valid, and the film’s criticism of Komen and others for getting into bed with polluters like Ford, Eli Lilly, and various cosmetics companies is its most convincing and powerful argument. But noting that lack of research or proof about the environmental assertions undermines the point a little. Still, Pool’s all-points attack on breast-cancer branding makes it impossible to see pink without a jaundiced eye.