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March 26, 2016

Tribeca Film Festival drops anti-vaccination documentary amid backlash

Robert de Niro changes course after public defense of plan to screen film

The Tribeca Film Festival has reversed course on its plan to screen a controversial anti-vaccination documentary that claims to expose an alleged cover-up of the medically disputed link between vaccination and autism.

Actor Robert Di Niro, who co-founded the festival in 2002 with his wife, Grace Hightower, had previously defended the decision to show “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” noting that his 18-year-old son has autism and the film would stimulate conversation around a polarizing issue.

Directed by anti-vaccination activist Andrew Wakefield, the documentary sparked intense backlash on social media for its inclusion at Tribeca, particularly in light of Wakefield's discredited 1998 study on which the film's arguments are based. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since produced a 2013 study invalidating evidence that vaccinations cause or are linked to autism, a position nearly universally upheld by the global scientific community in subsequent studies.

According to Variety, Di Niro issued a statement Saturday night explaining the decision to pull the film.

“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 a 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.”

A spokesperson for Andrew Wakefield, a former doctor stripped of his license by British medical authorities, was expected to release a statement about Tribeca's decision to remove the documentary, according to TruthKings, a media outlet established by anti-vaccination advocate Sherri Tenpenny.

The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 13 to April 24 in New York City.