Robert De Niro Pulls Anti-Vaccination Documentary From Tribeca Film Festival

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro Andrew Toth/FilmMagic

Robert De Niro has pulled a controversial film about the link between vaccines and autism from the lineup of his upcoming Tribeca Film Festival after receiving tremendous backlash from the medical community and social media. 

The Oscar winner first defended the decision to premiere Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, despite public outcry. “[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,” De Niro said in a statement on March 25. He continued: “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.” De Niro and Grace Hightower are parents of son Elliott and daughter Helen, who was born in 2011 via surrogate.

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But one day later, on March 26, the 72-year-old changed course and announced the festival will no longer show Vaxxed. The Dirty Grandpa star said in a statement: “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.” 

Robert De Niro and Grace Hightower
De Niro and Hightower attend the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival ‘Vanity Fair’ party at the State Supreme Courthouse on April 14, 2015, in New York City. Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic

Discredited doctor Andrew Wakefield directed the film. In 1998 he published a paper in medical journal The Lancet suggesting a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and childhood developmental delays, but no other researchers have never been able to replicate his findings. Wakefield’s paper — based on just 12 subjects— was rescinded by the journal in 2010 and he was barred from practicing medicine in the U.K. after the General Medical Council charged him with dishonesty and abusing developmentally challenged children. 

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Autism affects 1 in 68 children in the U.S., but repeated studies involving more than 1 million subjects (as opposed to Wakefield’s 12) have found there is no evidence to link childhood vaccines to autism. 

The Tribeca Film Festival, which opens April 13, was founded by De Niro and producer Jane Rosenthal in the wake of 9/11 as a way to try to revitalize New York City, particularly downtown. 

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