Actor Robert De Niro announced Saturday he is yanking the anti-vaccination documentary “Vaxxed” from the Tribeca Film Festival, after initially defending its inclusion.
“Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Conspiracy” was set to be part of the film festival when it opened next month. The decision to include the film by anti-vaccination activist Andrew Wakefield received some scrutiny, particularly because Wakefield’s contention that vaccines have a link to autism has been discredited.
De Niro defended the inclusion of the film on Friday, but reversed his decision Saturday. The actor revealed he has a child with autism and said he had hoped to provide an opportunity for conversation.
“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.”
The film festival sparked some outrage earlier this week when it announced it would screen “Vaxxed” at this year’s festival. According to the Los Angeles Times, the movie alleges that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has covered up the notion that measles, mumps and rubella vaccines increase the risk of autism.
The trailer for the film also asks if “our children are safe” over the image of smoke bellowing out of a syringe, according to The Guardian.
Michael Specter, a medical journalist from the New Yorker, told the LA Times that it was "disgraceful" to allow the film in the festival.
"This is a criminal who is responsible for people dying," Specter said.
Wakefield's position has been widely discredited by the scientific community and has been criticized for leading to a dangerous drop in MMR vaccinations.
De Niro received much criticism on social media for including the move in the festival and for giving Wakefield a chance to speak at a post-screening event.
“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,” De Niro added.
De Niro initially defended his position Friday, saying that it was his decision to schedule the film.
A statement from Wakefield, the film's director, and Del Bigtree, its producer, decried De Niro's decision, saying they didn't get a chance to defend themselves against critics of the film.
"We have just witnessed yet another example of the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art and truth," the statement read. "Tribeca's action will not succeed in denying the world access to the truth behind the film `Vaxxed."'
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 13 to April 24.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.