“Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” a controversial new documentary alleging that vaccinations may cause autism, has found a new home after it was cut from the slate of films screening at the Tribeca Film Festival by its founder, actor Robert De Niro.
De Niro’s decision was both applauded by pro-vaccine groups and castigated by others. And according to the actor, the decision did not come easily. The 72-year-old film icon and his wife Grace Hightower have an autistic child, but ultimately the increasingly vocal criticism of the science backing up the film’s claims was too much for the “Raging Bull” star to bear.
“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 March 26 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’s director and co-writer, Andrew Wakefield, vowed that his film would survive the snub – and it has. According to Variety, the film will now be released via Cinema Libre, which will premiere it this Friday at the Angelika Film Center in New York City. Apparently, there are no official distribution plans to follow, but Cinema Libre’s leadership clearly has no qualms with its content.
“We chose to distribute this film to correct a major issue, which is the suppression of medical data by a governmental agency that may very well be contributing to a significant health crisis,” Cinema Libre Chairman Philippe Diaz said in a statement. “The media storm of last week also revealed another issue; the hyper mediatization by some members of the media and the documentary community who had not even seen the film, as well as Tribeca executives, which condemned it as anti-vaccine.”
Diaz went on to argue that neither the film nor Wakefield himself is anti-vaccine. “Wakefield’s concern for the last twenty years has been about making sure that vaccines are safe for children,” he said. “This is why we decided to release the film now rather than as originally planned later in the year.”
Wakefield himself has argued that his film is being “censored in the United States of America” and that “it has become a First Amendment issue.”However, medical experts and critics have not questioned Wakefield’s freedom of speech, but they have attacked the methodology behind his research. He authored an influential and widely shared research paper in 1998 that alleged a link between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. But the findings of that study have since been debunked, and Wakefield’s medical license has been revoked in his native U.K. for allegedly falsifying his data.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have repeatedly found that no link between vaccines and autism exists and there is widespread concern that anti-vaccination propaganda, in some cases echoed by activists and celebrities, has led to a disturbing rise in preventable diseases like whooping cough and measles. However, “Vaxxed” features a senior scientist from CDC, Dr. Wiliam Thompson, who claims that the organization suppressed and in some cases discarded data that would have supported Wakefield’s claims.
“It would appear that Andrew Wakefield had sought a distributor before pitching this film to Tribeca, and they are now pushing the film out to the public quickly on the heels of negative publicity in hopes of capturing some curiosity about it. However, the facts about the filmmaker remain the same,” Karen Ernst, the executive director of Voices for Vaccines, a nonprofit organization composed of pro-vaccine parents, told MSNBC on Thursday.
“Andrew Wakefield has done nothing for the public good.” she added. “Because of Wakefield, we have seen waves of measles outbreaks where there were once none. We have seen parents made more afraid of autism than of deadly childhood diseases. The only person who has benefited from Andrew Wakefield’s persistent self-promotion is Andrew Wakefield. I hope the public ignores his latest venture with justified disdain.”