A film about a possible link between vaccines and autism was always going to be a controversial selection for the Tribeca Film Festival. Robert De Niro, co-founder of the New York event scheduled for April 13-24, is discovering exactly how controversial, after first defending the showing of the film, then agreeing it shouldn’t be screened, and now being accused of censorship by the film’s writer and director.
De Niro supported the screening of “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” despite the outcry from physicians, parents of children on the autism spectrum and pro-vaccine groups. De Niro, who has a child with autism, released a statement Friday that indicated his goal with the selection of “Vaxxed” was merely to allow conversation about the causes of autism to flourish.
He performed a sudden about-face on Saturday, apparently after seeing “Vaxxed.” He said in a statement:
“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. 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 documentary is written and directed by Andrew Wakefield. Those who have followed the anti-vaccine movement know the name well: In 1998, Wakefield was a doctor in the U.K. who claimed in one study to have found a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. His cause was taken up by a number of high-profile celebrities in the U.S. like Jenny McCarthy and her then-husband, Jim Carrey.
Wakefield and his producer Del Bigtree gave a statement to Deadline Hollywood blasting De Niro for pulling their film from the Tribeca lineup: “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.’ ”
In “Vaxxed,” Wakefield purports to have found a whistleblower from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with evidence that the CDC falsified data for studies on vaccine safety.
Ironically, Wakefield’s study was retracted in 2010 after the medical journal that published it, the Lancet, found evidence of tampering and undisclosed conflicts of interest.
“Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation,” the editors of the Lancet wrote in a statement.
Wakefield was stripped of his medical license in the U.K., and no other scientific study has been able to replicate his results.
In areas where anti-vaccine sentiment, and therefore numbers of unvaccinated children, are high, the populations are suffering from measles and whooping cough outbreaks. Certain school districts in the Los Angeles area have seen what doctors call a whooping cough epidemic not seen since the 1940s, according to a 2014 Hollywood Reporter story.