Robert De Niro and his wife Grace Hightower. The actor has bowed to pressure to withdraw the anti-vaccination film directed by disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield. Photograph: Everett/REX/Shutterstock
A controversial film about the discredited link between autism and vaccinations has been pulled from Robert De Niro’s Tribeca film festival, after the actor consulted “the scientific community” and found “concerns with certain things in this film”.
The father of an autistic child and co-founder of the festival, De Niro at first defended the decision to premiere Vaxxed: from Cover-Up to Catastrophe, despite outcry from doctors and researchers.
Repeatedstudies involving more than a million children have found there is no evidence to link childhood vaccines to autism. But a small movement of activists persists in the belief that vaccinations might somehow harm children.
On Saturday De Niro released a statement to explain the new decision. “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,” he said.
“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.”
The controversial film was directed by Andrew Wakefield, a disgraced British former doctor who published a study in 1998 that claimed links between a vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and autism. The paper was quickly found to contain numerous flaws and was deemed by the British Medical Journal “an elaborate fraud”.
The Lancet, which originally published the study, retracted it in 2010, the same year that Wakefield lost was stripped of his licence to practise medicine in the UK.
Wakefield appears in the trailer for his film, and claims that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have hidden evidence that would support his discredited claims. The trailer also asks “are our children safe” over the image of smoke swirling out of a syringe.
Prominent scientists and film-makers urged the festival to remove the film, arguing that De Niro and organizers legitimized the claims made by Wakefield by premiering it at their prestigious festival.