The Tribeca Film Festival in New York City has pulled from its schedule next month a controversial documentary asserting a causal link between childhood vaccines and autism.
The actor Robert De Niro, a co-founder of the festival, had said in a statement last Friday that because he and his wife, Grace Hightower, had a child with autism, “we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined.”
“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 added. “I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”
But there was a backlash to the festival platform that would be received by the the film “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.” The film is directed by Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist whose study linking vaccines to autism was retracted by the medical journal The Lancet in 2010.
“The problem is not that ‘Vaxxed’ is controversial, or even that it’s deceptive,” the documentarian Penny Lane wrote in an open letter to the festival. “The problem is that it is dangerous misinformation being legitimized under the banner of your considerable prestige.”
The anti-vaccination movement has been a concern to educators and states because of misinformation or the unproven link between vaccines and autism.
On Saturday, De Niro and Tribeca Film announced that they were canceling the screening of “Vaxxed.”
“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 the new 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,” he added. “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.”
Based on its website and trailer, “Vaxxed” includes allegations that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention altered data to cover up a link between the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and increased rates of autism.
“To our dismay, we learned today about the Tribeca Film Festival’s decision to reverse the official selection of” the film, the producers of “Vaxxed” say on the film’s website. “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’.”
The Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 13-24 in and around its namesake Lower Manhattan neighborhood, has several other education-related documentaries on its schedule.
But all evidence of “Vaxxed” was scrubbed from the festival’s website after Saturday’s decision.
On the website for “Vaxxed,” however, the trailer and other spots refer to the film as a “Tribeca Film Festival 2016 Official Selection.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.