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Friday, August 3, 2012 - Page updated at 03:00 p.m.
'Pink Ribbons, Inc.' challenges cheerful breast-cancer culture
By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic
A quietly angry documentary, Léa Pool's "Pink Ribbons, Inc." challenges the pink-ribbon culture of breast cancer. Interspersed with footage of enthusiastic walkers at pink-hued fundraising events around North America, it presents somber speakers who tell us that breast cancer isn't pink and pretty, that many of the disease's major fundraising drives are overcommercialized, and that despite hundreds of millions spent, we're nowhere near understanding the disease, let alone eliminating it. Breast cancer, we're told, causes 59,000 deaths in North America every year, and the number does not seem to be shrinking.
In the 98 minutes of "Pink Ribbons, Inc.," a wealth of information and images flit past, many intended to raise eyebrows if not ire. We're told that many of the companies visibly promoting breast-cancer fundraisers are also actively selling products that contain ingredients linked to cancer — a phenomenon the movie calls "pink-washing." Though more women are being diagnosed with breast cancer than ever before (currently 1 in 8 women will develop the disease, the film says, up from 1 in 22 in the 1940s), little attention is being paid to possible environmental causes — in part, the film says, because major fundraisers don't want to risk offending big corporations. While vast armies of researchers study the disease, their efforts aren't coordinated, and treatment options — summed up by one expert as "slash, burn, poison" (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy) — haven't changed much. Between the statistics, we meet a support group of Stage 4 breast-cancer patients in Texas, one of whom says movingly that they're not welcome in other groups — "we're the angel of death."
"Pink Ribbons, Inc." is short on answers, but that's intentional; this is a film that's meant to make us question our assumptions about a deadly disease and the vast fundraising machine that surrounds it. Breast-cancer awareness has surely been raised in recent decades — but, as one of the film's speakers reminds us, "awareness is different from doing something about it."
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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