Robert DeNiro and the Tribeca Film Festival have cancelled the premiere of a controversial anti-vaccination film that had been slated to screen at the New York City festival.
The film, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, directed by polarizing doctor Andrew Wakefield, explores the link between the proliferation of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and an increase in cases of children born with autism, a claim that has been widely discredited in the medical community.
DeNiro had been involved in scheduling the film’s world premiere next month at the Tribeca festival, which he helped co-found in 2002. But in a statement released Saturday, DeNiro said the screening had been cancelled.
“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. “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.”
The cancellation of the screening came just one day after DeNiro released another statement defending the film’s inclusion in the festival.
“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,” DeNiro said then. “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.”
The film’s inclusion at TFF prompted strong backlash from medical professionals and from other filmmakers. In an open letter addressed to the festival, documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (Our Nixon, Nuts!) called the film’s inclusion a “very serious mistake.”
“Very possibly, some people will walk away from your festival having been convinced, in part because of your good name and the excellence and integrity of your documentary programming, not to vaccinate their children,” the director wrote. “And very possibly people will die as a result.”
Vaxxed director Andrew Wakefield is a leading advocate of the anti-vaccination movement and one of the most controversial doctors in the medical field. According to the New York Times, an autism paper authored by Wakefield was pulled from the prestigious medical journal The Lancet in 2010, and his medical license was later revoked over ethics violations.
In a statement after learning of the film’s cancellation, Wakefield and producer Del Bigtree said the filmmakers had been “denied due process” and were not given the opportunity to respond to allegations made against the film.
“We have just witnessed yet another example of the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art, and truth,” the filmmakers said, according to Deadline. “Tribeca’s action will not succeed in denying the world access to the truth behind the film Vaxxed.”
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine professor Dr. William Schaffner commended the decision by DeNiro and the festival to cancel the screening.
“It gave these fraudulent ideas a face and a position and an energy that many of us thought they didn’t deserve,” Dr. Schaffner told the New York Times. “We’re all for ongoing reasonable debate and discussion, but these are ideas that have been proven to be incorrect many, many, many times over the past 15 years.”