Pink Ribbons Inc explores the world of breast cancer charitable organizations, particularly Susan G. Koman for the Cure, and shows what happens when charity becomes a business. Breast cancer charities are the most visible and profitable in the world, with countless numbers of big name sponsors displaying the pink ribbon and promising to donate toward finding a cure, but we are no closer to stopping cancer or even understanding what causes it. The documentary suggests that maybe we need to make big changes from what researchers focuses on to how charities get their funding. It’s a powerful film that will at times disturb you and at times touch you, as everyone knows someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
The documentary highlights how little has changed over time in how cancer is treated and there have been few milestones in cancer research. This may be the result of cancer research becoming big business. Organizations like Koman have to be careful not to have donations fund research that conflicts with one of their major sponsors. In another example of sponsors control the research, it is not in the best interests of the pharmaceutical companies to have prevention be the focus. As a result, a very small percentage of cancer research investigates prevention, with the majority covering what to do once a diagnosis is made.
One thing that stood out to me is how different the women look on the different sides of the issues. Those involved with the charities are perfectly polished with stylish clothing and well applied make-up. We see Susan G Koman CEO and founder Nancy G. Brinker over the years and it is clear she has spent a lot of time updating her appearance and is clearly sporting a facelift or two. Compare her to the women speaking out against these charitable organizations who are considerably more matronly and are comfortable being filmed with a frown on their face.
We also see the women who participate in the charitable walks. These women are presented without comment by the filmmaker, wooing and celebrating that they are doing something that will help the cause, but we know they are being misguided about where the money they are raising will go. This also touches on the “tyranny of cheerfulness” that runs rampant through these charities. Many preach the power of positive thinking in fighting cancer, which often leave though who are “losing the battle” through no fault of their own, feeling like they are a failure.
The most heartbreaking scenes focus on a support group for women with stage IV breast cancer. These women are open and honest about their struggle with the disease and the culture of charitable organizations who don’t want any reminders that sometimes hope doesn’t fix things. While the documentary makes some disturbing claims, they are doing so hoping to inspire change. There may be a path toward the cure for cancer, but we need to make big changes on how research is funded and conducted to get there.