Lea Pool is a Montreal filmmaker who was tapped to do a documentary about how money is raised for breast cancer research. Pool wasn’t sure there was story there until she jumped into the backstory on breast cancer awareness. Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, is a revealing book written in 2006 by Samantha King, a professor of kinesiology and health studies at Queen’s University. The next stop on the road to information was the autobiographical piece, Welcome to Cancerland, a scathing 2001 feature article in Harper’s magazine by feminist writer Barbara Ehrenreich. After reading that, it became the impetus for Pool to make Pink Ribbons, Inc., which is a 97 minute documentary that Pool explains: “I needed to find a way to make (the fundraising issue) more attractive to a large audience,” so she worked some filmmaking magic tricks, she interviews people against a digitally animated background and has them speak directly to the camera. “It’s not a new idea, but it works well – it engages the viewer,” said Pool.
Instead of normal narration facts are typed on the screen for the view to read, and she uses pink–a lot of pink. But it’s not all nice colors and scary facts – there’s also controversy and hypocrisy. Pool brings these facts …
… to light and to the screen:
A pharmaceutical company – AstraZeneca – that makes the anti-cancer drug tamoxifen also makes an agricultural crop spray linked to cancer.
The yogurt company – Yoplait –sponsors breast-cancer fundraising marches but has used milk from cows dosed with growth hormones that, again, are linked to cancer.
Ford – a car company whose plastic tail lights have given off fumes in the manufacturing process and some of whose mostly female plant workers have died of breast cancer.
Cosmetics companies like Estée Lauder, Avon, Revlon – companies that raise millions for breast-cancer research while attempting to deflect criticism – reportedly have cancer-causing agents within their hair dyes, lipsticks, and hand creams.
There’s also Kentucky Fried Chicken, who launched a “pink bucket campaign” for breast-cancer research. But junk food funding health research just doesn’t sit right in people’s stomachs.
Another interesting part of this documentary is the fact that breast cancer is one of the only fundraising charities that has a really cheerful message for a really horrible disease. Samantha King, the author of Pink Ribbons Inc., refers to “the tyranny of cheerfulness that pervades the breast-cancer awareness movement. It’s in all those upbeat marches and advertising campaigns led by companies whose self-interest should be evident: buy their pink-ribboned product and feel good about doing it. ‘Cause marketing’, it’s called, or, when their product might actually be bad for you, ‘pink-washing’.” Pool claimed she wanted to get to the bottom of it: “I wanted to follow the inc. of the pink ribbons, and the inc. meant one thing: money.”
This is a very interesting and informative documentary that makes you think – is it always a good idea to lighten the mood? When just as many women are dying today from breast cancer as they were 60 years ago, you have to stop and wonder where is this research and development money going? Is it going to look for a cure? Or is it going to pink ribbons and funny shirts? Is it fundraising for a cure, or fundraising for PR?