There was a point nearly halfway through Pink Ribbons, Inc. where I began to actively wonder what exactly was the thesis of the documentary I was viewing. It was clear that director Léa Pool was passionately trying to work towards revealing the "pinkwashing" that's become nearly unquestioned in the corporate sponsorship of public campaigns promoting breast cancer awareness and research. And yet, the actual point of the film, that there's an inherent hypocrisy built into the cynical practice of corporations, especially those selling products containing carcinogens to women, marketing their products using lil' pink breast cancer awareness ribbons, doesn't end up being very well articulated until far too late in the film for its impact to be fully appreciated.
It's also difficult to shake the feeling that the film is treating women who buy into the themed products and events like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in a condescending manner. Time and again, it cuts from dark proclamations from the film's cadre of experts about the uselessness of the current awareness culture (pink yogurt lids, juice bottles, etc.) to supremely light and silly images of women (oh, my god, actually having fun and bonding while) participating in that culture.
It's not as if the points being made by Pool's interviewees aren't valid. Yes, breast cancer campaigns were once linked to activism that demanded actual results in medical advancement, rather than the vague banner of "awareness" that most efforts rest under today. And it's true that there's something rotten in Denmark when Ford can slap a pink emblem on the side of a car, rake it in, and only contribute a miniscule amount of the profits to breast cancer research. Sadly, there's a lack of focus in the manner that these observations are organized, contributing an overall slackness to the piece that makes it feel overly long and tangential at times.
Fortunately, it's not all gray skies, as there are many things that the film does gets right. In particular, there's a wonderfully sharp and charismatic interview with breast cancer activist Barbara Brenner woven throughout that offers up many of the most clear-eyed moments of insight in the film. Brenner quickly becomes the film's voice of reason. Pool also brings her cameras to a gathering of women living with stage four cancer. Both their thoughts on the commercialization of their illness and their mere presence in the film force the viewer to grapple with what is truly at stake.
Pink Ribbons, Inc. begins its run at Cinema 21 on Friday, June 29th. More info available here.
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