Robert De Niro and the Tribeca Film Festival reversed their decision to screen Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe, saying the anti-vaccine film does not contribute to the discussion De Niro had hoped for.
“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.”
The statement continued: “The Festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy. 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.”
The controversy has provoked angry confrontations between those convinced of a conspiracy to cover-up the “truth” about the vaccine’s potential for irreversible damage and those who insist that no such link exists and that denying children the vaccination puts an enormous population at grave risk. Giving the film a major platform, they say, legitimises a “debate” where none exists. The statement from De Niro fanned the flames already surrounding the scheduled screening next month (April 2016)
De Niro and his wife, Grace Hightower, “have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined,” De Niro said in a statement distributed by the TFF Friday afternoon. “In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening Vaxxed. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”
It’s precisely that “conversation” that has drawn fire, however, from critics of the anti-vaccination movement in general and Vaxxed in particular. The film is directed by Andrew Wakefield, a gastroenterologist who first asserted the link in 1998 in a study based on 12 patients. Subsequent to its publication, Wakefield’s work was disavowed by The Lancet, the prestigious medical journal that first gave weight to his argument. After further investigation, Wakefield was stripped of his medical license. Later studies dismissed the idea of a link between MMR and autism, while the medical establishment responded emphatically that denying children the vaccine put the whole population at risk of contracting childhood diseases that had been all but erased.
“Andrew Wakefield has become one of the most reviled doctors of his generation, blamed directly and indirectly, depending on the accuser, for irresponsibly starting a panic with tragic repercussions: vaccination rates so low that childhood diseases once all but eradicated here — whooping cough and measles, among them — have re-emerged, endangering young lives,” The New York Times reported in a 2011 profile.