“Pink Ribbons, Inc.” is infuriating, and I mean that in a good way.
The provocative documentary acknowledges the enormous amounts of money that have been raised to fight breast cancer by such organizations as Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Avon. But the film’s guiding principle is that those organizations have had the opportunity to tell their stories, and it’s time to offer a differing take.
The best scenes in “Pink Ribbons” involve a group of women who speak from the heart about their experiences. Several object to the term “survivor,” to discussions of the “fight” against breast cancer and to the implication that people who succumb to cancer have somehow not fought hard enough. Others object to the way breast cancer patients are targeted by marketers. There’s an eye-opening demonstration that Yoplait’s breast cancer efforts are much more about profits than philanthropy. And some simply appear to be grateful to share a room with women who understand what they’re going through.
“Pink Ribbons” notes the huge strides that have been made in breast cancer awareness but asks a challenging question: Does awareness accomplish anything? The film confronts the way breast cancer campaigns have created the impression that the group most likely to have the cancer is affluent, ultra-feminine white women. And it questions whether cancer research is even focusing on the right things.
The film’s side trip to explore what causes breast cancer feels out of place. And, oddly, “Pink Ribbons” doesn’t address recent Komen controversies: director Nancy Brinker’s outsized, company-paid expenses or her rescinded decision to stop sending funding to Planned Parenthood. But there may be too much story here for one movie to tell, and the start that “Pink Ribbons” gets on that story is beautifully summed up by a breast cancer activist, discussing the seamy underbelly of pink ribbon fundraising: “If people knew what was happening, they would be really pissed off,” says Barbara Brenner. “They should be.”