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Pink Ribbons, Inc. – My Review

I’ve wanted to see the movie Pink Ribbons, Inc. since its release in theaters earlier this year. I was even contemplating driving the 100 miles or so back to the Twin Cities to see it as it didn’t make it into theaters close to me. But of course, I waited too long.

About a month or so ago I decided to just order my own copy, which would allow me to pass it around to friends and family too. It was my plan to write a blog post about it in October. Well, the other day I realized I better get crackin’ before this crazy month has come and gone.

Recently I suggested to Dear Hubby that it might be the perfect night to watch it, but if he didn’t care to, that would be fine with me.

“I think I have some work to do,” he mentioned, which he did, but I don’t think that’s why he planned on bowing out. As far as following my blog and all that goes with it, he often reminds me and others as well, “I’m living it.” Sometimes he’s had it “up to here” with breast cancer anything, understandably so.

Once the movie got rolling, however, I noticed (but kept quiet) he did not leave the room. Nor did he nod off as sometimes happens when viewing movies I’ve selected. In fact, he seemed quite captivated.

I think this is a review in and of itself. (And thanks for watching it with me, David).

For those of you who don’t know, Pink Ribbons, Inc. is a 2011 documentary feature film based on the book Pink Ribbons, Inc. Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy by Dr. Samantha King, who is an associate professor of kinesiology and health studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Click here or on the image at the end of this post to view the movie’s trailer.

The movie examines the origin of the pink ribbon, the pink ribbon culture that has evolved around it, what motivates people to keep walking and running in races, corporate greed as it relates to the pink ribbon, lack of change in how breast cancer is treated, environmental factors possibly at play in causing breast cancer, the questionable role of pharmaceuticals in all of this, the hypocrisy regarding safety standards and the lack of research collaboration to name a few things.

A main message of the movie is that breast cancer has turned into the poster child for cause marketing; in other words, just a fancier way to say what I’ve been saying a lot lately – breast cancer has turned into the shopping cancer.

Once again we come back to that million dollar question, who is really profiting?

There were numerous interviews in the movie, not the least being one with Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Komen’s fundraising tactics and lack of dollars marked for research were what I would call “attacked softly” in the movie.

The most moving parts of the entire movie were the conversations with women living with stage IV breast cancer. Even the way these women were presented in the movie, as a group separate from any other, made a statement. It was like they were completely separate from the rest of the movie in some way. It’s hard to explain and I wonder if this was staged intentionally. Several women from the group spoke eloquently and emotionally about this very feeling of isolation and disconnect from the “pink party survivor parades”.

Those scenes were by far the most powerful for me.

An eye-opening revelation for Dear Hubby was realizing the staggering amount of money involved in all this pinking. Vast amounts of dollars are coming in, but there seems to be little accountability and too many questions such as:

What exactly is all this money being spent on?

Why is so little going to research?

Why is research not more of a collaborative effort?

What exactly are we researching and what are the specific outcomes of research projects?

Why is so little (5%) spent on environmental risk factor research?

Why is so little spent on cancer prevention research?

Why is so little spent on metastatic breast cancer research when it’s what kills?

These are all valid questions.

One of my favorite things in the movie was hearing all this “pinking” referred to by Samantha King as the “tyranny of cheerfulness.” I am not a grumpy person, but I loved that.

Hands down, my favorite part(s) were whenever author Barbara Ehrenreich was on the screen saying anything at all. (It’s worth your time to watch the movie trailer just to hear her briefly there). I loved her candor, wit, humor and blunt honesty – something often lacking in pink cancer land. I also appreciated her discontent with the “survivor” label, calling it a put down to those who don’t survive.

That’s exactly how I feel about it!

I’m putting her book(s) on the top of my Christmas wish list.

All in all, I found Pink Ribbons, Inc. to be thought-provoking. While much of it was not new to me, seeing all this stuff compiled together in a movie format was powerful and well worth the ninety minutes or so of viewing time. The movie ends with the message to viewers that their actions matter; each of us can help facilitate change.

When ordinary people do a simple thing, it changes the world. 

And that’s a pretty empowering message don’t you think?

So, two thumbs up from my house!

NOTE: Click on the image below to view the movie’s trailer.

Have you seen Pink Ribbons, Inc. or do you plan to?

If you have, what’s something that “stuck” with you the most?

Do have any thoughts (any kind) about this movie to share?

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Edit Update:  Pink Ribbons Inc. is available to watch on Amazon Prime


Pink Ribbons, Inc. - My Review #Pinktober #pinkribbons







27 thoughts to “Pink Ribbons, Inc. – My Review”

  1. Nancy, thanks so much for your insights. Have heard much about it, but haven’t had the opportunity to see it. You’ve now enticed me to order it. I was disappointed in the slow progression of the movie state-by-state. Great marketing ploy, but limits that number who see it, which doesn’t help the cause.

    1. Cj, I hope you do see it, I’d be interested in your opinion about it. Yes, the release seemed pretty limited, but I suppose it’s all about the size of the budget. Overall, it’s quite good. Thanks so much for commenting.

  2. Thanks so much for writing this. It’s encouraging to see pink questions elbowing their way through the pervasive images set forth by Komen and others. “Attacked softly” is a great phrase.

    Where the money is going — and all the ads, campaigns, jobs (it takes a lot of people to make all that crap) — boggles my mind.

    Keep at it. All our voices are growing into a louder chorus.

    1. Jody, I love how the movie raises so many questions. I was actually expecting it to be more “scathing,” not sure why and I thought Komen was attacked softly in it. The amount of money involved is really staggering. Guess we have to keep on talking about it. As you said, more voices makes for a louder chorus. Thanks for chiming in, Jody.

  3. Hi Nancy,
    Thanks for covering this. I, too, have had difficulty getting to see the film. It’s kind of strange how limited its marketing and accessibility is. You have to wonder if its producers have framed a tale to make a point among a selective, supportive audience.

    1. Elaine, I assume it’s more about budget issues, but that’s an interesting point you make there about the framing. I hope you get a chance to see it. Your thoughts on it would be of interest to many. Thanks for commenting.

  4. So interesting that the women with mets were treated so separately from the rest of us. As much as I’ve read about life with mets from the women who are living it, I never considered the effect that “the pink parades for survivors” has on the stage IV girls. That breaks my heart.

    1. Nancy, I know. I feel the same way. It’s terribly ironic that those who need the support the most often are the very ones feeling so disconnected. This is more proof that all this pinking has gone astray IMO. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    2. Breaks my heart too! So exclusionary and sad that these parades are so fun and happy for all EXCEPT for our stage 4 sisters and brothers. Don’t get me wrong, I have walked in a few over the past 20 yrs., but we need a mind shift that is inclusionary of all warriors, not just survivors.

  5. I watched the movie a couple of weeks ago. For anyone in the US, it is available streaming if you have Netflix.(not sure about the DVD rental by mail) Thankfully, this made the movie more accessible to the masses. Get the word out.

    As someone with metastatic bc, I appreciated the prominence of the Stage IV women. I loved that they were filmed telling truths, being realistic. I think for me, the seeming isolation of their shots emphasized that they (we) are not partaking in the pink parade crap; the pink tyranny, if you will.

    I, too, loved the clips of Barbara Ehrenreich. I also love the parts from Barbara A. Brenner. Hers were perhaps my favorite parts.

    I think the film shows that the music, words and rah-rah can pump up any crowd, and draw many to the band wagon, regardless of purpose. Those same crowds could be whipped into a frenzy about ANYTHING, given feather boas, upbeat music and carefully chosen motivational words.

    I add my recommendation to that of Nancy’s Point: See it if you know the pink is crap; it will validate your feelings. See it if you are on the pink fence, see it if you think all the pink cause marketing is okay and doing what it should.

    And thank you, Nancy’s Point, for pushing forward this October, when some of us are burning out and fading back. I, for one, greatly appreciate your voice!

    1. Shelli, I remember when you mentioned on FB that you had watched it. I also remember saying there was a part you didn’t agree with, so I was wondering what that might be. At least I thought it was you who said that. I found the interviews with the stge IV women to be so moving and so honest. I’m so glad that was included. I loved every second that Barbara E. was in this movie. And yes, Barbara Brenner also did a superb job. Thanks for adding your recommendation here. And thank you so much for your kind words, Shelli. I really appreciate your support all over the place. Thank you!

  6. The movie is available on Netflix streaming right now. I’m about 1/2 through, and like you it’s nothing new to me, but seeing it all together is powerful.

    1. Linda, Thanks for that added info and thanks to Shelli too for sharing that. I agree, seeing it all put together is pretty amazing. Hope you get to finish it soon! Thanks for your comments, Linda.

  7. I have the movie I tried to upload it to youtube to share with the other bloggers but the file was too large.

    A definite eye opener and it shows the value placed on research *smh* it is all about marketing, this draws big bucks for corporations. I feel this year people are finally starting to clue in that all that is Pink doesn’t necessarily turn to GREEN ($$$$$$$)
    I want you to read this and give me your opinion. This was written by a girl studying medicine in the UK I know her personally..

    **Breast cancer is derived from glandular tissue and unless you have a genetic marker that can be used as a tracer/target it is near impossible to treat when it mets. It is the same reason why metastatic prostate/colon cancer has poor prognosis. A lot of research doesn’t go into metastatic disease because it is too late to do anything, this is why a lot of money is pumped into early detection/treatment of the early stages in cancer. One of the most important things I have learnt to date is that any therapy used to treat a patient must not be too aggressive such that it causes more harm than good, treating stage IV disease will kill the patient quicker than the pathology would.**

    Love Alli….

    1. Alli, Well, thanks for trying to share it. That was thoughtful of you. I think you’re right. I feel people are questioning more than ever too. So, it makes me hopeful. I will have to think about what your friend wrote. Hmm. I agree with the latter part. Sometimes the treatments do end up causing more harm than good. Sometimes the treatments themselves are so toxic, at times deadly even. We need better treatments, which will only come through research. The first part seems to imply we shouldn’t bother with researching mets because it’s hard or not worth it because it’s too late. Impossible, I don’t accept that kind of thinking. It doesn’t make any sense to me. And studying about both ends of the disease spectrum will help in understanding all of it. The 30% for 30% mets research campaign going on right now seem fair and more importantly, right. Well, I guess I didn’t have to think about it after all! ha. Thank you for sharing, Alli.

  8. Nancy, like you I decided to order my own copy and watch it at home. I did that a few weeks ago. I found it to be powerful in many respects, but in ways had expected more of a “punch.” The MBC support group clips were the most moving to me and so needed in a documentary on this topic. I am a big Barbara Ehrenreich fan and recommend “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.” Chapter One is “Smile or Die: The Bright Side of Cancer.” The chapter is basically her compelling essay “Welcome to Cancerland” that first appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 2001. When I first read that essay, Samantha King’s book mentioned above, and Gayle Sulik’s “Pink Ribbon Blues” I started looking at breast cancer awareness differently and was comforted to know I wasn’t the only one with such conflicting feelings. Thanks for the review and post Nancy.

    1. Lisa, I actually thought there would be a harder punch too…Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ve heard such great things about it. I can’t wait to read it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Pink Ribbons, Inc., Lisa. I appreciate getting your thoughts on it.

  9. Watched last week on Netflix instant. Incredibly good at contextualizing much of the information I have come to learn in the 7 weeks since I was diagnosed and had a double mastectomy. Taught me a lot I didn’t know, especially about METS. While when we are dealing with cancer we become focused on treatment, the movie reminded me of the necessity of focusing on both a cure AND prevention, both institutionally and individually. It blew me away to realize how easily and unconsciously I had accepted the early detection and treatment paradigm, almost to the exclusion of one focused on cure and prevention, even as I was asking myself how the hell I got this in the first place and would I get it again. It’s a great film. At times difficult to watch. The juxtaposition of the experiences of women whose cancer has metastasized with the corporate-sponsored pink party that takes advantage of the good intentions of so many people makes me angry and sad. But now I know and can make informed decisions about where to put my money and my time.

    1. Kim, First of all, I’m sorry about your diagnosis and your need for a double mastectomy. I hope you are healing well. It’s a lot to grapple with isn’t it? I agree that this movie effectively contextualizes a lot of information and also asks a lot of questions that need to be asked and even more importantly need to be answered. Don’t feel bad, you aren’t the only one who had unconsciously accepted all that we’ve been “fed.” I certainly had as well. It’s great you feel better informed now and your future actions will reflect this. Thank you so much for sharing your insightful comments. Keep healing and please stop by again. My best.

  10. I had very mixed feeling about the film.

    The stage 4 group was brilliant. I was glad their voices and their grief got a stage.

    I don’t even have a problem with the thesis about pinkwashing and so forth.

    However you could slow down video and and add ominous music of people doing anything and it would seem tragic.

    I felt like it actually was a little exploitative of the people at the walk. (I am sure some of you feel like they are being exploited period.)

    I just felt like there was a lot of sloppy film making. Too many of the interviews were in chroma key, a good doc should show the people in some sort of relevant settings.

    In the end, I felt like it was more of a manifesto than a movie, I am a big fan of documentaries and for general audience it was not that well produced.

    I am really happy the social share box is not blocking the window this time. Sorry about my past sloppy post.

    I guess I felt like the message was worthwhile, but the actual film could have been a lot better crafted.

    1. Suzanne, I don’t have film production knowledge, but I would imagine there were more than a few budget constraints when making this film. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but I appreciated the questions that were brought forth and like you, felt the messages of the metastatic women were quite profound. Thanks so much for sharing your opinions on the film. It’s great to get a variety of thoughts. And I’m glad you had an easier time commenting this time too.

  11. Hey, everyone, if you have Netflix streaming you can watch it right now.

    Nancy, I agree with your comments. The movie is very well done and compelling. I would recommend it to others (and I have). I have Stage IV breast cancer, so I especially appreciated the scenes with the Stage IV support group. And it made me grateful for my own group here in Boston.

    I don’t think the movie did as good a job as the book did at highlighting the switch from political activism to corporate sponsored “slacktivism” and exploring the implications of that transformation. Addressing a serious public health issue with “cause marketing,” and creating a situation where “causes” have to compete for private philanthropy is ceding important policy-making and political power to mega-corporations. Neo-liberal economic policies of privatizing everything in sight and prioritizing expenditures of funds based on popularity, glamor, or the like are rendering citizens powerless and relegating all of us to a single role in society–that of consumer. We are not citizens anymore. We are the targets of marketing campaigns.

    The book does a fantastic job of connecting those dots. The movie alludes to it (especially in the interviews with Barbara Ehrenreich) but does not explicitly address it.

    1. Amy, Thank you for adding to this discussion. I have not read the book, so that’s an interesting observation you make. “We are not citizens anymore. We are the targets of marketing campaigns.” That’s a pretty strong statement that I will need to reflect more upon. As I mentioned, I expected the movie to have a bit more of a punch, but I also understand the need for not “going over board.” Sometimes you lose too many people if you do that and then your message goes no where fast. There’s a fine line to walk there. All in all, I liked it too. Thanks again for adding your insights.

  12. Hi Nancy,

    I’m finally taking the time to catch up on all my reading. This is an outstanding review. The film sounds like it brings up a lot of questions, and now I’m curious about the “soft” attack against Komen. Anyway, I might see it eventually, but I’m so fatigued by Pinktober, I’m hesitant to see if right now.

    1. Beth, I hope you do see it when you feel ready, Beth. Yes, I thought the attack on Komen would be more harsh, but there’s a fine line to walk there when you’re making a movie. I hear you on the Pinktober fatigue. Thanks for taking time to comment on my review.

  13. We watched it last week and thought it was very good! I guess the only complaint we had was how it just came to an abrupt ending. There was no real “call to action.” I guess we have to come up with that on our own.

    Also, I did feel bad for all those people doing those walks. I wouldnt want them to feel like their participation meant nothing. They are truly trying to make a difference. People generally want to help others, and participating in these is one way people think they can show support.

    I personally have dedicated walks and runs to people I love, so I understand that feeling of using a walk to represent strength or remembrance or whatever it might be. I guess that is why I would’ve liked to see more of a call to action at the end. What should people do instead?

    1. Lindsay, I thought the ending was sort of abrupt too. To me the message at the end by Barbara A. Brenner saying, “When ordinary people do a simple thing, it changes the world,” was very powerful though. The whole premise of the movie was to attempt to make people aware of what’s been going on and to help them realize their actions, whatever they might be, matter. Participants in events are not to be blamed nor should we think their actions mean nothing. I agree, people want to help but sometimes this generous spirit is being taken advantage of in these events. The bigger issue is the cause marketing that has gotten so out of control and the huge sums of money being raked in. It always comes back to the million dollar question, who is really profiting? Why has there not been more accountability? Thanks for watching the movie and for sharing your thoughts about it.

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