Actor and filmmaker Robert De Niro has abruptly reversed his plans to screen a controversial antivaccination documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival, just a day after defending the decision as an “opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”
Plans to screen the documentary, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” directed and cowritten by British medical researcher Andrew Wakefield, generated an intense backlash over just 24 hours. Wakefield’s research linking vaccines to autism has been widely discredited.
In a statement late Saturday, De Niro, a Tribeca cofounder, said the documentary has been pulled from the film festival’s schedule.
“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,” said De Niro, who has a son with autism. “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 festival, De Niro added, “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.”
Wakefield authored a 1998 study in the journal the Lancet that suggested that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines could cause autism. The Lancet retracted the paper 12 years later; Britain’s General Medical Council separately revoked Wakefield’s medical license for a series of ethical violations and failure to disclose conflicts of interest.
His work, nonetheless, has helped fuel the antivaccination movement, even as public health officials have stressed there is no evidence that vaccines can cause autism.
By Saturday night, promotional material for “Vaxxed” had been removed from the Tribeca Film Festival’s website.
Wakefield and the producer of “Vaxxed,” Del Bigtree, said they were dismayed by Tribeca’s decision.
“It is our understanding that persons from an organization affiliated with the festival have made unspecified allegations against the film — claims that we were given no opportunity to challenge or redress. We were denied due process,” they said in a statement. “We have just witnessed yet another example of the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art, and truth. Tribeca’s action will not succeed in denying the world access to the truth behind the film ‘Vaxxed.'”
Wakefield and Bigtree said they planned on “pressing forward” and would detail plans for distribution later.
This story was updated with the statement from the filmmakers behind “Vaxxed.”