Ravida Din had long considered producing a documentary about cancer, but it wasn’t until her sister suggested she read Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay “Welcome to Cancerland” that she found her focus.
Ehrenreich wrote the essay about her experiences undergoing breast cancer treatment and how the disease has been re-branded via the pink ribbon movement. “But in a way that maybe doesn’t reflect most women’s experience which is that it’s a terrible disease and we’ve, in fact, maybe gone too far in making it very pretty in pink,” said the film producer.
The essay gave Din the language she needed to make sense of her own experiences as a woman coping with breast cancer and treatment, nearly seven years ago. “I knew that I didn’t feel anything in mainstream media spoke to me so I kind of ignored it, actually, especially around October, all of the hype around breast cancer,” she said. “I didn’t feel compelled to be a part of any of it. It didn’t speak to me.”
She then read Samantha King’s book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, which provided the framework for the film.
Pink Ribbons, Inc. premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, screened at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, and opens in theatres across Canada, Feb. 3.
The 98-minute National Film Board of Canada documentary, which is directed by Léa Pool shows how the reality of breast cancer, which marketing experts have labelled a dream cause, has been repackaged into a shiny, pink story of celebratory sisterhood.
Pink Ribbons, Inc. contrasts seas of women clad in pink T-shirts, caps and boas at walks and “runs for the cure” with the thoughts of women in a support group whose breast cancer has spread.
The film notes that one in 22 women risked getting breast cancer in the 1940s, one in eight women in the U.S. in the 2000s, with a similar rate for Canadian women. Yet, cancer treatment has barely evolved since the “War on Cancer” was declared with treatment including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, or as one doctor calls it, “slash, burn and poison.”
The film features the folks behind massive marketing campaigns that have raised billions for cancer research, support and treatment. It questions “pinkwashing” by companies that raise money for breast cancer while producing products that contain known carcinogens.
The filmmakers estimate 15 per cent of money raised to fight cancer is spent on prevention, and five per cent on environmental links.
Din doesn’t propose people stop directing feelings of powerlessness about cancer into collective action. But she hopes audiences will be inspired to ask tougher questions about the outcomes of research and causes of breast cancer.
“If women come together and feel some type of solidarity, I think that’s great,” she said. “There’s room for outrage. There’s room for a public platform that asks for more accountability from the organizations [raising money] and from government.”
Pink Ribbons, Inc. screens at Denman Cinemas.