Robert DeNiro, the actor and co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, defended the festival’s controversial decision to screen an anti-vaccine documentary, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, DeNiro explained why:
"[My wife] 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," the statement reads. "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."
Wakefield's fraudulent study against vaccines was retracted in 2010
Organizers of the 2016 film festival came under fire right after announcing that they would premiere the documentary, which was directed by anti-vaccine activist Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield was disgraced after publishing a 1998 study linking the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine to autism in the medical journal The Lancet. The study was found to be fraudulent: It was retracted in 2010 and Wakefield lost his license to practice medicine in the UK. Wakefield and his study fueled the anti-vaccine movement, which endangers lives and caused a comeback of some deadly infectious diseases like measles in the US.
In its description of Vaxxed, the Tribeca Film Festival doesn’t mention that Wakefield’s 1998 study was retracted. The backlash on social media was almost immediate.
The Tribeca Film Festival justified its screening of Vaxxed with a tweet: "Like most film fests, Tribeca is about dialogue & conversation," it reads. "We present opposing viewpoints without judgement or endorsement."