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‘Pink Ribbons’ Producer Gives a New Voice to Debate

7 Sep, 2012 By: Ashley Ratcliff

In America, pink ribbons and the products displaying them have become a ubiquitous, conventional symbol of breast cancer.

But why has something so cute and dainty come to represent a disease that is far from it? How much money spent on pink-ribbon merchandise actually goes toward breast cancer research? Have donations from the major corporations’ pink campaigns led to any developments for the disease?

These are just a few of the many questions raised in Pink Ribbons, Inc., which First Run Features presents Sept. 25 on DVD ($27.95).

“I always expected to be surprised and that I would hear something about some great progress that has been made, like a real breakthrough, something that has led to a real difference, in terms of health care that women are provided around breast cancer,” said producer Ravida Din. “I felt that that information wasn’t forthcoming.”

Throughout the process of making the film, Din found the lack of coordination among organizations conducting research “bewildering.”

Pink Ribbons, Inc. examines whether organizations such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Avon, Revlon, Kentucky Friend Chicken and the Ford Motor Co., among others, have used the pink ribbon to affect change through their cause marketing campaigns.

While Komen founder Nancy Goodman Brinker defends her organization in the documentary, Din said the backlash from those criticized in Pink Ribbons, Inc. has been almost nonexistent.

“I expected that there would be more controversy, but, in fact, it’s been the contrary,” Din said. “What it’s done is exactly what I hoped it would do, which is create a level of debate that I find just amazing. … You may not agree with everything, but there are things here that we need to talk about. That, first and foremost, was the motivation to make this film. It was to have a very different kind of conversation.”

Pink Ribbons, Inc. stresses the importance of focusing on breast cancer prevention, a viewpoint that is overshadowed by the push for a cure.

The filmmakers interviewed medical experts and activists, including Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbara A. Brenner, Dr. Charlene Elliott, Dr. Susan Love and Dr. Samantha King, whose book, Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, inspired the documentary.

It was Ehrenreich’s essay, “Welcome to Cancerland,” describing her bout with the disease that put into words the very things Din felt after her breast cancer diagnosis eight years ago at the age of 39. She successfully underwent surgery and radiation, and is cancer-free today.

“Through her (Ehrenreich’s) very wry humor she said, ‘I’m not battling anything,’” Din said. “When I read that, I had my ‘aha moment,’ and I thought, ‘That’s what it is.’ A lot of the mainstream treatment around breast cancer in women’s lives, and women’s health in general, it really didn’t speak to me at all. A lot of it was very testimony driven. … I think Ehrenreich just helped me name it. My response to this disease is a political one. I want real answers. I want to know what my options are.”

Din doesn’t discount that people are willing to support the cause by giving to pink-ribbon campaigns. However, she hopes that people will probe further into how their money is being spent and give in tangible ways.

“There are ways to [donate] that are constructive,” Din said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that when you go to the grocery store that you buy the pink mushrooms or the pink toilet paper. If you really want to give money, it means doing research. It means doing some homework. … You can give money directly to those in most need, for example, women in low-income situations. You can actually give directly to Planned Parenthood; you don’t have to go through Komen Foundation. … It’s about having a voice in how your money’s spent.”

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