In an abrupt about-face, the Tribeca Film Festival has pulled a controversial anti-vaccination documentary a day after festival co-founder Robert De Niro publicly defended the decision to show “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.”
“My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family,” De Niro said in a statement. “But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.”
“Vaxxed” is co-written and directed by Andrew Wakefield, a former surgeon and medical researcher who published a discredited 1998 research paper that claimed that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to autism. Wakefield was accused of professional misconduct and falsifying information in that study, and the Lancet, the journal that ran the research, retracted the piece. The British doctor has been barred from practicing medicine in the U.K.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no link between vaccination and autism. The anti-vaccination movement has lowered vaccination rates, which in turn has been linked to a recurrence of vaccine-preventible diseases such as measles and mumps.
De Niro and his wife, Grace Hightower, have an autistic child, and in a statement on Friday, the actor and director said he believed “it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined.”
The reaction on Twitter, Facebook and social media platforms was intense. The decision also was criticized in the creative community, with documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (“Our Nixon”) writing an open letter to the the festival saying that including “Vaxxed” threatened its credibility.
In the face of mounting outrage, De Niro said that he had become concerned about the content of the picture.
“The Festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy,” De Niro’s statement continues. “However, we have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the Festival program. We have decided to remove it from our schedule.”