I admit it.
I don't care for pop philanthropy. Bubble Gum Charity. Armchair Activism. I'm not bashing the internet nor am I criticizing those who sign the online petitions, "like" social causes or give by simply pushing a button. Heck, I'm just about in support of most anything that furthers those causes in which I believe. What bugs me, and it's largely at the core of Lea Pool's excellent documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc.,
is the commercialization of social justice/charitable efforts or the marketing for mass consumption of said causes.
I can't say I felt any sense of glee when Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure experienced their recent dust-up over the severing of their relationship with Planned Parenthood, but I will say that I didn't find myself particularly surprised by the controversy.
Money talks. Power talks. Influence talks.
So, when certain political voices began to have a strong influence within Race for the Cure, what happened? Politics took over. For anyone who has been watching the mass marketing of the organization in recent years, it simply shouldn't have been a surprise.
Director Lea Pool couldn't have possibly realized how well timed her feature documentary would be when she set out to make a film about the "pinkwashing" of America and beyond. Based upon a widely respected book by Samantha King, Pink Ribbons, Inc.
is an accessible film that delves deep within the culture of breast cancer awareness and asks such vital questions as "Why isn't there a cure yet?," "Where does all the money go?," and "What's up with the large corporations that support the cause?" along with others.
The answers that Pink Ribbons, Inc.
comes up with aren't necessarily earth-shattering nor are they necessarily surprising, but Pool presents the information well and with a surprising lack of emotional manipulation. Much of what Pool concludes comes back to, well, money. Would we have possibly come up with a cure by now if we weren't also invested in supporting the garden variety organizations and corporations whose livelihood depends upon cancer awareness?
It may be an ugly question, but it's a legit question.
Pool comes up with some honest answers.
Another issue that Pool examines in the film is that to this day a substantial amount of the funds raised goes for treatment rather than prevention, a perhaps more marketable yet less effective effort. American media, for example, is always very big on "selling the drama" of a cause. This is something that's harder to do when working on prevention rather than treatment, because treatment affords one the chance to cover personal stories, family moments, etc.
The least effective moments in the film come when Pool presents those who find themselves turned off or even repulsed by the almost cult-like atmosphere of breast cancer awareness. While there's much to support the argument that trying to make breast cancer "pretty" for the public is an insult to survivors, this path of reasoning comes off as relatively petty over the course of the film. There's no question that there's many who don't resonate with the "battle" mentality or the "survivor" mentality that is so often adopted within the breast cancer culture, but rather than exploring ways to bridge the gap it seems like Pink Ribbons, Inc.
just acknowledges the divide and doesn't go anywhere with that division.
Overall, however, Pink Ribbons, Inc.
is an informative and entertaining documentary that should be considered "must see" viewing for anyone involved in the breast cancer awareness efforts. While the film isn't necessarily strong enough to sway Komen or the Avon Foundation's strongest supporters, it is well researched and informative enough to provide significant food for thought about where you place your financial and volunteer support efforts.
Pink Ribbons, Inc.
has been picked up by First Run Features for a limited theatrical run followed by a home video release.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic