Thursday, April 12, 2012

Pink Ribbons Inc.

A group of five good friends saw Pink Ribbons, Inc, three of whom had had breast cancer, and one of whom worked at the Foundation of Princess Margaret Hospital, Canada's preeminent cancer hospital.  Talk about a movie being relevant.

I had heard the movie would take a swipe at the 'breast cancer industry' as it was called, but its messages were not entirely what I expected.  Certainly, it criticized pinkwashing by companies with dubious credentials on health issues, such as KFC's pink buckets.

Another target was Yoplait which ran a promotion for people to send in lids and Yoplait would contribute to breast cancer.  Two problems there: first of all, with Yoplait contributing only a penny per lid, the postage to send in the lids was more than the donation, and secondly, while this promotion was running, Yoplait was making the yogurt with milk from cows fed with rGBH growth hormone, a known carcinogen (a practice they've since discontinued). 

The movie also challenged the thrust of breast cancer research: with so many millions raised and dedicated to breast cancer research, why hadn't there been more progress?  Only a very small proportion of the research dollars have focused on environmental contributions to breast cancer.  Since genetic and lifestyle factors explain fewer than half the occurrences of breast cancer, why hasn't more research money been directed toward the environment as a possible cause?  My friend from Princess Margaret argued passionately that researchers were focused on figuring out what made that original cell go rogue in an individual and that was an essential question to answer.  But the question still hangs in the air - but why aren't we further along after so many decades and so many dollars?

The movie also featured women protesting against the very vocabulary around breast cancer: stirring images of brave women who 'fought' cancer and 'survived' and researchers engaged in a 'war against cancer'.  They resent the implication that women have some degree of control over the disease and could survive if they would just fight hard enough.  It's not about fighting the disease, but about enduring the disease.  And the focus on  lifestyle choices, which explain only half the cases of breast cancer, shifts the blame for the disease to women themselves, making them feel it's their own fault if they're sick.

All in all a very thought provoking movie.

P.S. We saw it in The Projection Booth, a small theatre that has recently been re-opened as a rep theatre in eastern central Toronto.  We five were the only attendees, and received a personal welcome from the owner before the movie started.  Your heart goes out to someone trying to make it in the tough tough world of cinema, dominated by the giant megaplexes, and you can't help but wish him well.

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