Each month, TFS will publish Doc Talk Thursdays, a blog devoted entirely to anything and everything to do with Canadian documentaries and filmmakers. Our first post looks at Léa Pool’s 2011 doc, Pink Ribbons, Inc.

In 2011, the National Film Board of Canada released a film that criticized the capitalization of cancer. Pink Ribbons, Inc., directed by Léa Pool, is probably the most recent Canadian doc to address society’s “cancer culture.” We see this culture—namely in the form of a small pink ribbon—populating our department stores and pinned to chests in a genuine effort to show support.

This culture is a part of our choices as consumers. We see the iconic pink ribbon printed proudly on a lipstick tube, or a tissue box, thinking that if we purchase it we will help “conquer” cancer. Pool’s documentary questions whether or not we truly think before we pink.

Over time, the pink ribbon has lost its meaning in the race to top of the money pile. Pink Ribbons, Inc. dissects the symbol and reveals its many layers. It also gives several thorough examples of when certain companies claim their proceeds will go toward cancer research, when in fact only a small portion of money raised will be used. Not only this, but many of the companies claiming to support cancer research are also the ones who use cancer-causing chemicals in their products.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. boldly addresses an uncomfortable topic that the mainstream media seems afraid to address. It isn’t everyday that we hear someone protesting against the various causes and products that are aimed to support cancer research. But rather than outright protest the apparent movement, the documentary seems to propose an alternative.

A group of women in Pink Ribbons, Inc. who talk about their experiences of having cancer.

A group of women in Pink Ribbons, Inc. who talk about their experiences of having cancer.

First, Pool’s documentary features compelling personal stories from women who have, or have lived with, cancer. A frequent comment amongst the women is that there is a problematic language used when talking about cancer. Words like “battle,” “conquer,” and especially the word “survivor” don’t seem to encapsulate the actual experience of having cancer. Rather, they’re now go-to words at the basis of cancer culture that are meant to hype up financial donors.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. also hints at the idea that the ribbon has been turned into a pretty fetish, centred around beauty and esthetics. Many of the women in the documentary point out that cancer, while consistently packaged in a pretty pink ribbon, is not at all as beautiful as the media tries to force it to be.

pink ribbons inc

The main criticism that I personally have with the documentary, is that it features montages of happy, hopeful individuals participating in walks and fundraisers. While these montages are meant to prove a point that the disillusionment of cancer culture is widespread, it seems to put these individuals on the spot for their participation. In my opinion, this tactic is harsh, unless we recognize the individual reasons as to why someone would participate in the event.

While it’s apparent that society’s cancer culture is problematic, Pink Ribbons, Inc. proves that there are alternatives to supporting research and programs. But first, there needs to be an important and continuous dialogue about how we can strengthen our views and understanding of cancer.