publication date: Jan 9, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski
Harsh words, spoken by a woman who's lived a harsh reality - "Reducing the most serious health crisis
of my life to a pink teddy bear is offensive." That blunt assessment comes from
writer and social critic Barbara
in the National
documentary Pink Ribbons,
difficult to watch. Director Léa
shows us thousands of women in pink wigs, pink shirts, pink jewellery.
They're pumped. They're running, jumping, riding and rowing for "The Cure" (for
a disease that isn't actually named). The optimism and sense of triumph are
heady, even giddy - despite the pile of 12,000 empty disposable drink bottles
proudly highlighted by one corporate representative as proof of his company's event
while causing disease
But Pool also shows us the un-pink, un-pretty, frankly
hypocritical part of the breast cancer fundraising story.
Pink ribbon began
with idea theft
Research into pharmaceutical treatments comes
from drug companies focused on developing a marketable product. They also make hugely
profitable products like pesticides and bovine growth hormone that are risk
factors for breast cancer.
Komen for the Cure and other charities allow corporations to hitch
unrelated, even harmful products to the breast cancer bandwagon ("pinkwashing").
KFC partnered with Komen to
contribute 50 cents for every pink chicken bucket it sold. Estee Lauder markets pink cosmetics, yet uses cancer-causing
chemicals in those products and others.
Despite billions of dollars raised through pink
events and products, there is no cure and no comprehensive report of outcomes. Komen
and supporting corporations tout the amount of money raised and contributed,
not the resulting discoveries.
In the 1940s, one in 22 American women was at
risk for breast cancer. Now, after years of pink fundraising and pharmaceutically-focused
research, the ratio is one in eight.
was one of the first people to distribute a ribbon as a means of raising
awareness for breast cancer. In the 1990s, she began handing out peach-coloured
ribbons with cards that read, "The National
annual budget is $1.8 billion. Only 5% goes for cancer
prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon."
Her aim was a grassroots movement to lobby for research funding.
and Estée Lauder
asked to use
Haley's ribbon, but she refused, feeling they were too commercial. As she
explains in the film, they consulted their lawyers, who advised them to change
the ribbon colour and go ahead. A marketing juggernaut was born - one that to
this day, according to activists Barbara
and Janet Collins
smothers Haley's original intent to focus on cancer prevention.
Saying "no" to
While it's easy to avoid and even mock pink Mustangs, pink
makeup cases, pink KitchenAid mixers and pink toilet paper, it's not so easy to
turn down the plea of a friend who's walking, running or rowing for "The Cure."
In the film, Komen founding CEO Nancy Brinker
lauds the empowerment of cancer
survivors and bereaved relatives who complete long events and raise big money.
It's hard to disagree with her as you watch event footage.
Yet the most heartbreaking moments arise in
the contrast between the frankness of stage 4 cancer patients (deemed
incurable) and the rah-rah superficiality of pink events. There is no narrator telling viewers what to think. The most genuine optimism resounds in Brenner's closing statement: "It [the extent of
individual support] shows how motivated women are. We have enormous power if we
would just use it."
See this film. It opens the weekend of February 3 at 40 AMC
and rep theatre screens across Canada. See it soon - commercial cinemas aren't long-term
hosts to documentaries, even when they're as remarkable as Pink Ribbons, Inc.Get the book
that inspired the movie.
Editor's note: Cancer
fundraising is a multi-faceted issue. Send your responses and views to me by email or contact me on Twitter, @JanetGadeski. Hilborn will publish the most
thoughtful perspectives in future articles.
For more information, www.NFB.ca/pink