‘Pink Ribbons, Inc.’ premieres nationwide, will show for a limited time in Calgary

Many people have at least one or two pink ribbon products. From pink socks, pink key chains, pink coasters to pink KitchenAids, we’ve seen them all. There are even pink guns.

But in the new documentary “Pink Ribbons, Inc.,” authors, researchers and activists argue that the ribbons aren’t always pretty in pink.

The film, presented by the National Film Board of Canada and premiered on Feb. 3, looks at the idea that pink ribbon campaigns have become more of a marketing strategy for corporations rather than an awareness program for breast cancer research and prevention. As a result, the pink ribbon culture was created.

Donna Lazdowski, associate professor in marketing at Mount Royal University, said that the original message for breast cancer awareness has weakened within all the pink ribbon branding.

“The controversy, as I see it, would be that it’s overexposed,” Lazdowski said. “You name a product now and there’s virtually some sort of pink version of it. So it’s really diluted that original message.”

Lazdowski said that in many cases, companies simply slap the ribbon on their products in order to attract customers.

She said: “I do think there is an ethical place for this. If the company associates with [the pink ribbon] and does it thoughtfully, those are companies we want to support. The problem is that it’s out of control.”

A more detailed explanation of pinkwashing and how it works.
Courtesy of: The National Film Board of Canada

Directed by Léa Pool, the film addresses the history of the pink ribbon, why the colour pink was chosen and what the colour means to society. The 97-minute documentary also questions why breast cancer is still one of the most common cancers among women in North America despite billions of dollars raised for research and prevention.

Charity foundation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, has invested over $1.9 billion into breast cancer causes since 1982. Yet, the Canadian Cancer Society estimates that one in nine women are expected to develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Barbara Brenner, an activist with Breast Cancer Action San Francisco, takes a firmer stand against the pink campaigns.

In the film, she said, “I think if people actually knew what was happening, they would be really pissed off. They should be.”

It was revealed in the documentary that only 15 per cent of all research dollars raised goes to the prevention of breast cancer.

Marie Delorme, attendee at the Calgary premiere, said, “I have always wondered why we never get an accounting of exactly where the money goes. It’s a big issue.”

The film also offers many examples of companies who partner with breast cancer organizations but also make products with cancer-causing elements – a phenomenon called “pinkwashing.”

Ashleigh Whitworth, another moviegoer who attended the opening, said, “The other shock is seeing companies completely exploiting women and creating a lot of the illnesses out there then profiting (from it). It makes my blood boil.”

Delorme said that something could be done about the “pinkwashing” if people just spoke up and asked questions. Documentary attendees Marie Delorme (left) and Ashleigh Whitworth (right) attend the Calgary premiere of “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” on Feb. 3. Both women say there needs to be a lot of more education about “pinkwashing”.
Photo by: Pauline Zulueta

She said, “We have to speak with our wallets and be very cautious about the kinds of products we buy. We have a very powerful voice as consumers.”

Lazdowski also agrees by encouraging people to take a closer look at pink products and the company producing them before buying them. She also said to evaluate whether the product is appropriate and fits with the cause.

But most importantly, people should be reading the fine print to see just how much is actually going to breast cancer causes, Lazdowski said.

“Pink Ribbons, Inc.” will be playing at the Plaza Theatre in Kensington until Feb. 9. For more information about the film, go to www.nfb.ca.

pzulueta@cjournal.ca