Robert De Niro Defends Tribeca's Decision To Screen Anti-Vaccination Documentary, Receives Backlash [Update]

Editor's note: In light of the decision to pull Vaxxed from Tribeca, the festival has issued a statement from Robert De Niro.

"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. 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 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."

Robert De Niro has defended an anti-vaccination documentary that is slated for showing at the Tribeca Film Festival this year and is now receiving some backlash for the decision.

The documentary, Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe, is a film produced by Andrew Wakefield, the man who's been linked to igniting mass, unfounded hysteria over vaccinations.

In 1998, Wakefield infamously — and it would seem wrongfully — presented a paper that presumably documented that a combination vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) could be linked to the onset of autism.

After the presentation, Wakefield's findings were deemed erroneous and the paper was retracted. Wakefield was subsequently stripped of his medical license, found guilty of "abusing a position of trust as a medical practitioner," and found guilty of "dishonesty" in his studies, according to Entertainment Weekly.

In a statement released Friday, Robert De Niro defended the showing of the film at Tribeca, saying he bases his opinion on his own personal experiences.

"Grace [Hightower, De Niro's wife] and I 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. 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."

Tribeca's website tends to ignore the fact that Wakefield was stripped of his medical license because of his "findings."
"Digging into the long-debated link between autism and vaccines... [the film] features revealing and emotional interviews with pharmaceutical insiders, doctors, politicians, parents, and one whistleblower to understand what's behind the skyrocketing increase of autism diagnoses today."
Andrew Wakefield is described by Tribeca as an "academic gastroenterologist who practiced medicine at the Royal Free in the UK publishing over 140 scientific papers."

The site further states that Wakefield was contacted by the parents of autistic children in 1995 with stomach issues, which he claims often occurred immediately following an MMR vaccine.

Needless to say, the festival and De Niro are the subjects of heated conversations on social media for the inclusion of the film in the festival's screenings.

Documentarian Penny Lane denounced the festival's decision in a public letter to Tribeca on Facebook.

"Dear Tribeca Film Festival, I love you but you made a very serious mistake. Your online film festival guide helpfully suggests if I'm interested in Vaxxed, I might also be interested in the category of 'documentaries.' Well, as a documentary filmmaker who spent eight years making a film about a quack: yes... I am interested in your choice to screen Vaxxed and what it means for documentaries."
Wakefield's report, initially published in British medical journal The Lancet in 1998, was retracted by the journal in 2010.
"It has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al. are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were 'consecutively referred' and that investigations were 'approved' by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record."
Despite the retraction, it was too late and the damage was already done. The repercussions linger today with a decline in vaccination rates that has led to new outbreaks of measles and other illnesses.

As reported by the Inquisitr, Wakefield filed suit against BMJ, a medical journal that published a scathing editorial in January of 2011 in which editor Fiona Godlee alleged the doctor had "altered numerous facts about the patients' medical histories in order to support his claim to have identified a new syndrome."

He lost that lawsuit, along with several others.

The film is scheduled to premier Sunday, April 24, at the Tribeca Film Festival.

What is your take on Robert De Niro's defense of the screening of the film at Tribeca?

(Photo by Sebastian Scheiner - Pool/Getty Images)