After receiving a substantial of backlash and criticism from both the general public and the scientific community, actor and Tribeca Film Festival founder Robert De Niro has pulled Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe from the festival.
In a statement released on the festival's Facebook page, De Niro explained why the film would no longer be shown at the Tribeca:
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 Festival doesn't seek to avoid or shy away from controversy. 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.
This comes after his earlier statement, in which he expressed a desire to examine "all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism."
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. 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.
Though I am almost never against a reasonable discussion of any kind, I am against Andrew Wakefield leading any sort of discussion on this topic, because he simply cannot be trusted. This film, which was directed by Wakefield, can hardly be counted upon to provide an unbiased, fact-based look at the topic of vaccines as they related to autism.
Wakefield's studies have been discredited for over five years now for ethical lapses, including taking blood samples from children attending his son's birthday party, and misrepresentation of study data.
Even though the original 1998 study has been widely discredited and retracted from the journal in which it was originally published, there are still those die-hard Wakefield supporters who are upset to see his film pulled from Tribeca, which is (kind of) surprising, considering Wakefield is a known liar.
This isn't a matter of censorship. In the words of Kavin Senapathy, science writer and contributor to Forbes:
There is no big pharma conspiracy to push vaccines, and the only fraudulent narrative is that of Andrew Wakefield and his supporters. To screen the film at Tribeca would provide a false balance around an issue that doesn’t have two equal points of view. It’s simple, vaccine opponents fail every test of science and logic and their propaganda doesn’t warrant validation. “We were denied due process,” laments the statement from the Vaxxed team.
(Senapathy then goes on to point out that the film festival is not in fact a court of law, so the due process clauses in the 5th and 14th amendments don't apply.)
Look, you either trust the scientific community, or you don't. I'm not saying that scientific publishing and the peer-review process are without fault but, when choosing between many, many studies compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics and a disgraced, barred, former doctor such as Wakefield, it makes sense to side with the American Academy of Pediatrics.
It's not just the scientific community that applauds the withdrawal of Vaxxed from the festival. In an open letter written for The Mary Sue, writer Zack Budryk, who is himself autistic, expressed his displeasure with the film and its treatment of the autistic community:
But here’s why your invocation of your child really chafed, Mr. De Niro: anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are fundamentally rooted in hatred of autistic people. The operating principle behind them is that a child suffering or dying from a preventable disease (indeed, countless children, considering the outbreaks anti-vaccine parents are responsible for) is preferable to an autistic child. This is a mindset that gets autistic children killed and, not to put too fine a point on it, but if your motivation is love for an autistic child, you shouldn’t touch a grifter like Andrew Wakefield with a 10-foot pole.
Conspiracy theory documentaries like this are dangerous on a few levels. Not only do they propagate fear and distrust of science, but they create a culture of ableism that sees autism as worse than potentially fatal diseases.
Vaxxed is a propaganda film, pure and simple, and De Niro's decision to pull it was a good one. Discussion is one thing, but real discussion can't be had when it's built on lies, deception, and bad science. In terms of "censorship," no one is preventing Wakefield from screening his film. He's perfectly free to show it to whomever he wishes, whenever he wishes, it just won't be shown at Tribeca.