Reviewer: James van Maanen
Ratings (out of five): **** 1/2
This could be the most important documentary of the year. Forget that: of the decade. You might say that it goes against conventional wisdom, except that what it goes against isn't wisdom, really: just conventional, follow-the-leader, lemming-like behavior in the quest for a feel-good quick fix. In any case, the film is going to be extremely unpopular among the powers-that-be in the corporate and medical world.
Pink Ribbons, Inc., the new documentary from Canadian film-maker Léa Pool, is likely to make those people apoplectic even a few minutes into the movie. Not that Pool or any of her many interviewees ever raises their voice. No. These people are quiet, concerned, informed -- and fed up. As you may be, too, once you've watched the movie in its entirety.
Believe me, I have nothing against the color pink or against ribbons in general. In fact, hearing the story of the woman, now elderly, who first came up with the idea of a ribbon as a symbol for breast cancer, proved both a heartening and appalling experience. Appalling because her initial ribbon was the color orange -- nothing wrong with that -- but when a very well-known corporation wanted to buy from her the right to own that ribbon and use it to hawk product and make money, she said no. And so, clever company that it was, it simply changed the color to pink. And that's how we've become stuck with pink products galore that would have you believe that they are all helping to fight breast cancer.
Are they not? Well, Pink Ribbons, Inc. shows us why they not only are not helping but may actually be hindering, as well. Pool and her researchers get down to the nub of things by pointing out how certain companies, while going "pink" to raise money to help fight breast cancer, are simultaneously manufacturing products that are linked to causing the disease.
This is capitalism run typically amok, and further encouraged by the huge commercial success of the entire "pink" campaign that has, as the movie so insightfully demonstrates, raised millions of dollars in the name of breast cancer -- very few of which are devoted to prevention of the disease or to the real education of the public, but rather go for "research" and that long promised "cure." As social critic Barbara Ehrenreich (who leads off this fine film) quietly explains, "The effect of the whole pink ribbon culture has been to drain and deflect the kind of militancy we had...." As the movie points out, with specifics that encompass psychology, sociology, economics and politics, the breast cancer movement has changed from activism to feel-good consumerism.
We watch, aghast, as Pink seems to take over the world: from the expected Teddy Bears to food product (what Barbara A. Brenner, ex-Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action, says about a certain company's yogurt campaign is highly instructive, while what we learn about the Kentucky Fried Chicken campaign is downright shocking). Even Niagra Falls and the Empire State Building go pink! Starting back in the 1970s -- with the Reagan administration's push toward "private" and "business" solutions to health, social welfare and charity -- the film moves on to the Pink Campaign's selectively leaving out those women who are dying via Stage 4 Breast cancer (come on, this campaign is about surviving, not death!), quietly and effectively raising your hackles in the process.
By the time it gets to exactly where all the money raised for breast cancer actually goes, and why, and to the big pharmaceutical companies such as Eli Lily who appear to be working both sides of the street, you'll be ready to cry uncle. After watching this 97-minute documentary, I’ve come up with a couple of slight rhymes that I plan to live by from now on:
If it's pink, it'll likely stink
If there's a ribbon,
Or, to put it even more succinctly by quoting the objective of this compassionate, well-reasoned documentary: to persuade the word's citizenry to simply "Think before you pink."
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