In a move fanning the flames of an already uncontrollable garbage fire, actor and Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert De Niro released a statement defending the annual event’s decision to screen the controversial documentary, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe.
Directed and co-written by the former British medical doctor, Andrew Wakefield, Vaxxed re-presents his debunked 1998 study linking MMR vaccines (for measles, mumps and rubella) to autism and other debilitating conditions. The paper’s findings were eventually retracted in 2010 as several of its co-authors disagreed with Wakefield’s argued results. According to The New York Times, Britain’s General Medical Council stripped him of his medical license in 2010 due to ethical violations pertaining to the study.
Tribeca’s website for the film didn’t mention these particular items from Wakefield’s history. Instead, it emphasized the film and its purported focus on the “long-debated link between autism and vaccines,” as well as the supposed conspiratorial reasons “behind the skyrocketing increase of autism diagnoses today.”
Meanwhile, De Niro’s statement regarding the documentary and Tribeca’s decision to screen it tried to stay out of the debate entirely. Instead, the actor remarked on he and his wife Grace Hightower De Niro’s personal connection to the subject:
“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. 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.”
Other celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and, more recently, Jim Carrey have not adopted a neutral stance on the subject as the De Niros apparently have. Instead, they have used their fame and media attention to give the anti-vaccination ideas developed by Wakefield and other notable anti-vaxxers claiming scientific and academic backgrounds.
Hence why so many have not responded to Vaxxed‘s inclusion in the documentary category at Tribeca. And not just medical professionals, but other filmmakers as well. As the NYT pointed out, documentarian Penny Lane wrote an open letter to the festival heads in Filmmaker magazine in which she argued that their selecting Vaxxed “threatens the credibility of not just the other filmmakers in your doc slate, but the field in general.”
Despite the backlash, the Vaxxed world premiere is still scheduled for Sunday, April 24 at 2 p.m. ET. After the movie attendees will have the opportunity to discuss it with the filmmakers and interviewees.