The upcoming Tribeca Film Festival has come under heat for its screening of a documentary that promotes the anti-vaccination movement. In a statement, Robert De Niro defended the screening of Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe while also distancing himself as part of the anti-vaccination movement.
“Grace [Hightower, De Niro's wife] 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," De Niro said (via Variety). "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."
Andrew Wakefield, the doctor-turned-documentarian behind Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Catastrophe, argues that vaccinations given to infants could lead to autism, a claim that the Centers for Disease Control has long denied. Wakefield's research papers on the subject have been attacked and discredited, and while his bio page on the Tribeca site mentions his work in the field, it doesn't mention that he's been accused of professional misconduct and falsifying information. Wakefield was also stripped of his medical license.
De Niro's statement has sparked even more controversy as the actor's decision to include the documentary as part of the film festival that he helped found represents only one side of the anti-vaccination debate. Filmmaker Penny Lane, who made the documentary Nuts! about a snake oil salesman and medical fraud in general, penned an open letter to the Tribeca Film Festival asking them to reconsider the Vaxxed screening.
"While it is true that we documentary filmmakers constantly debate vexing questions about the perceived and real differences between our work and the work of traditional journalism, I assure you that we are not debating whether it is okay to knowingly spread dangerous lies," Lane wrote of Wakefield. "In other words: issues around truth and ethics in documentary can get thorny. But this one should have been easy. The anti-vaccination hoax has been completely discredited by now. This film is not some sort of disinterested investigation into the 'vaccines cause autism' hoax; this film is 'directed by the person who perpetuated the hoax.'"
As of now, Vaxxed is scheduled to screen April 24th at the film festival.