A controversial anti-vaccination documentary has been pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival lineup after it was met with fierce criticism, festival co-founder Robert De Niro announced on Saturday.
The actor and the festival were hit with an onslaught of criticism for showing the documentary by the disgraced anti-vax doctor Andrew Wakefield. The documentary claims that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concocted a conspiracy to cover up the "true" reason for America’s rising autism diagnosis rates: vaccines. Extensive research, including studies by the World Health Organization, the Institute of Medicine and the CDC have all found that there is no link between vaccines and autism.
Wakefield first achieved notoriety with a 1998 study that claimed the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was linked to autism. His work was found to be based on fraudulent data and the study retracted from the journal that published it.
(For more on the inaccuracies of Wakefield’s film, read this explainer from The Huffington Post's Anna Almendrala.)
De Niro said on Saturday that "concerns" with the film prompted its removal from the lineup.
"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," he said 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. 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."
"Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe" claims to explore the "long-debated link between autism and vaccines” and "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," according to a description that has since been removed from the festival's website.
A day earlier, De Niro had defended showing the film. "Grace 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,” he said in a statement Friday. “I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue."
Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote that the prestigious Festival was “sullying” its reputation by hosting the film. "Careless actions such as those of the Tribeca Film Festival don't contribute to 'dialogue and discussion,' as the festival's PR would have it; they just spread misinformation and pseudoscience and undermine public health,” he wrote.
Documentary filmmaker Penny Lane, a two-time grantee of the Tribeca Film Institute, had written an open letter to the festival, saying that it had a made “very serious mistake” in hosting Wakefield’s film and calling him a “widely discredited and dangerous anti-vaccination quack."
The 2016 Tribeca Film Festival runs April 13-24 in New York.