Lea Pool wants you to think before you pink. For the Swiss-Canadian director of features such as Lost and Delirious, the color of breast-cancer awareness properly should be gray, not fuchsia.
The subject of her documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc., the An Inconvenient Truth of cancer-awareness advocacy, is the pink circus of "cause marketing." Most of the researchers and survivors she interviews ask whether the corporations associated with raising money and consciousness about breast cancer might a) exploit cancer for corporate gain; b) manufacture products associated with the rise of breast cancers; and c) focus on survivors at the expense of directing public attention to causes and research.
Given the plethora of blush-lit monuments, magenta Ford Mustangs, and bubblegum-colored buckets of KFC chicken that Pool shows, it's hard to disagree with the physician who asks, "What does lighting Niagara Falls pink for 24 hours have to do with breast cancer research and cure?"
Critics of such demonstrations suggest they are like putting a pink Band-Aid on cancer.
"Are we putting a pretty face on this? Absolutely not!" answers Nancy Brinker, herself a breast cancer survivor as well as founder and chief executive officer of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the foundation named for her late sister. (Brinker was interviewed before Komen came under fire for excluding Planned Parenthood from grants for breast-cancer screenings. It has since reversed its decision.)
While Pool includes the defenses of cause marketers such as Brinker, the film is a pointed critique of corporations - including Avon, Eli Lilly, Estée Lauder, Ford, Fuze, Revlon, and Yoplait - that use runs and walks for the cure as marketing opportunities for their products.
You might ask, is this necessarily a bad thing? On the face of it, no.
But when you learn that Yoplait yogurt contained the carcinogen bovine growth hormone until activists persuaded the company to remove it, or that some Lauder personal care products had ingredients linked to breast cancer, you have to agree with the advocates who charge that some corporations are milking cancer. Is it not hypocritical to manufacture products with carcinogenic elements and then market those products to promote breast-cancer awareness?
Consider the statistics: In 1940, a woman had a 1-in-22 chance of developing breast cancer; today, the number is 1 in 8. As only 20 to 30 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have the risk factors associated with it, proponents of environmental justice link the rise to "estrogenic plastics," growth hormones, and other pollutants.
While most of the talking heads, including the funny and articulate Barbara Ehrenreich (herself a breast cancer survivor), are not likely to join runs and walks for the cure, Pool shows how such events create community and sisterhood.
"People running the races are innocent," observes a woman with Stage IV cancer. But her tone changes to quiet indignation when she asks, "Why is our disease being used by people for profit?"