The use of “talking heads,” the dismissive term for shots of people in documentaries talking into the camera, has been disparaged by some as lazy filmmaking, and rightly so. But the ones in Pink Ribbons, Inc. deserve some kind of special award. A caustic and genuinely eye-opening takedown of the assumed-to-be-saintly breast cancer awarenss movement—at least the one represented by pretty pink ribbons—it isn’t particularly well-made: Slackily directed by Léa Pool and essentially translating the findings of the titular book, by Queen’s University professor Samantha King, into movie form for those too lazy to read.
On the other hand, it has some of the angriest, pissiest, quotable-ist—and, of course, incisive—talking heads in memory, and that only adds to the righteous outrage. The interviewees, all women, are careful not to besmirch the noble intentions of those who participate in the movement. But they’re dubious of a group that seeks to, as they put it, “soften the disease,” that appropriates the language of war (“suffering,” “fighting”), that denies anger and other messy emotions while instilling a “tyranny of cheerfulness.” An Oscar to the woman who talks about how she hates the word “survivor” because it’s a put-down to those who died, who also says of pink teddy bears: “I’m sorry, I’m not 6 years old.”
They’re not just being grinches. The more insidious problem is how the movement has glommed onto corporations to spread and popularize their message, a decision that’s proven Faustian. Time and again, corporate tie-ins have been less than progressive: The film’s commentators lament a useless American Express campaign that donated a penny with every purchase, no matter the size, and one with KFC that tacitly endorsed “really horrible food.” Only 15 percent of research money goes to research, and only 5 percent of that goes to research on environmental causes of breast cancer, which doesn’t help when the likes of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation find themselves in bed with big business pollutants and cosmetic companies. There’s something tedious about the way the film constantly cuts to the same jubilant San Fran event, but as the film goes on, the participants’ pep goes from innocuous to oblivious of some truly heinous counter-productivity.