Robert De Niro sparked controversy this week when he announced that the Tribeca Film Festival would be showing an anti-vaccination documentary.
The discussion about whether or not vaccinations are linked to autism has been ongoing since the late ’90s.
In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a paper linking the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine to autism. In 2010, the paper was discredited and the circumstances behind its publication led to Wakefield’s medical license being revoked. By 2011, the British Medical Journal reported the findings of an investigation they’d conducted into the writing of Wakefield’s paper. They explained that they found that Wakefield was an “elaborate fraud” and that he had falsified data in order to get to his desired result.
Despite the very public discrediting of the idea that vaccinations lead to autism, the anti-vaccination movement has been continuing to convince parents not to vaccinate their children.
So, when the Tribeca Film Festival – a festival co-founded by popular actor Robert De Niro – announced that they would be showing the movie VAXXED: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, it was no surprise when it shook up some controversy.
The matter was only made worse when it came to light that the director of VAXXED was none other than the discredited Andrew Wakefield himself.
Robert De Niro tried to defend his decision to show the film on the Tribeca Film Festival’s Facebook page, Friday.
“Grace [De Niro] 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,” De Niro wrote in his statement. “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,” De Niro went on to explain. “I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”
Fans of the Tribeca Film Festival used the comments section to debate the statement Robert De Niro had given. Some claimed that it was a matter of free speech, while others explained that showing the film could further the anti-vaccination movement and lend credibility to something that had none on its own.
Penny Lane, a documentary director, wrote an open letter to De Niro and the Tribeca Film Festival, trashing their decision to show the film.
“Issues around truth and ethics in documentary can get thorny. But this one is easy,” Lane wrote, according to CNN. “This film is not some sort of disinterested investigation into the ‘vaccines cause autism’ hoax; this film is directed by the person who perpetuated the hoax.”
But by Saturday, something had changed.
Robert De Niro issued another statement explaining that he had changed his mind and that the film would not be screened during the Tribeca Film Festival.
“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 explained in the 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 Festival doesn’t seek to avoid or shy away from controversy,” Robert De Niro continued on to say. “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.”
[Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Spike TV]