I don’t usually see movies in central London, but this time I decided it was worth the equivalent of $50 for two cinema tickets. The Human Rights Watch Film Festival was in town and my husband and I decided to see at least one movie. We decided on Léa Pool’s Pink Ribbon Inc, which is based on the book by Dr. Samantha King and boy, was that a good idea.
This movie really should have the subtitle: “Here’s more if you’ve sort of stopped being angry at Komen after the Planned Parenthood debacle.” It exposes how the Susuan G. Komen Foundation and the Avon Foundation have hijacked the ribbon from Charlotte Haley (which was originally more of a salmon color than the bright pink we know today) and turned it into a tool for corporate gains.
To be sure – raising awareness is important and so is community. However, this film peels away the layers of pinkification and the “tyranny of cheerfulness” which now surrounds this brutal disease and touches upon the difficult issues. It talks about the very important stuff which is left unspoken during the runs and races for the cure. Just a few include:
- Women still die of cancer at an alarming rate!
- Billions have been poured into research but we still have nothing close to a cure!
- Why are we investing huge sums of money in drugs which prolong a patient’s life by 3 weeks and make a huge profit for a pharma company, when next to nothing is going into prevention?
- How come Komen’s corporate partners sell products with toxins which are known to be carcinogenic?
The movie touches a number of important issues, but not only is it incredibly informative, it’s also touching. I had tears in my eyes when Léa Pool was interviewing stage 4 cancer patients. These women talked about how the pink ribbon alienates them and how the whole rhetoric around the disease implies their “failures” because they’re “losing their battle.” Although they make it clear they think individual people have only the best of intentions and I still felt bad about every single pink ribbon I’ve ever dealt with.
Overall, I think the movie was great and it has everything I love in a good documentary – the facts, the great talking heads (yes Barbara Ehrenreich!), the joys and trials of real life. The only thing I felt missing was the raw – and pretty sobering data – showing how Komen spends its money. What you might not know when you buy the pink ribbon yogurts and guns (not joking) is how much of that money actually goes to breast cancer research. Short answer is: probably much less than you’re thinking. And Komen itself spends 24% of its budget on research while half as much goes to running the foundation (this – and more shocking facts – are from a great article in Mother Jones. If you read just one thing about Komen and issues surrounding breast cancer fund raising pretty please make it this amazing piece of journalism. (And no – I’m not a friend or relative of the author.)
Really, if you get the chance – see this movie and I guarantee you’ll walk out pretty angry and determined to ask more questions about how all that money we’re running and racing to collect is being spent.
A recovering scientist, healthcare analyst and junkie of all things gender and women's health