A controversial film that accuses the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of covering up the link between vaccines and rising autism rates has been pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival after its inclusion sparked outrage.
A day after he defended the decision to screen the documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, festival co-founder Robert De Niro announced in a statement Saturday that he reversed course after reviewing the film with colleagues and experts.
"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," the statement 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."
Deadline Hollywood reported that filmmakers have accused Tribeca officials of engaging in censorship.
"To our dismay, we learned today about the Tribeca Film Festival's decision to reverse the official selection of Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe," director Andrew Wakefield and producer Del Bigtree said.
"It is our understanding that persons from an organisation affiliated with the festival have made unspecified allegations against the film," the statement continued. "We have just witnessed yet another example of the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art, and truth. Tribeca's action will not succeed in denying the world access to the truth behind the film 'Vaxxed.'"
The film is directed and co-written by Wakefield, a polarising anti-vaccination activist and onetime gastroenterologist whose medical license was revoked by Britain's General Medical Council, according to CBS News. Wakefield is also the author of a widely discounted study - published in the medical journal the Lancet, in 1998 - that was retracted in 2010. Studies from the independent, nonprofit Institute of Medicine, the World Health Organization and the CDC have discredited the notion that a link exists between vaccines and developing autism spectrum disorder, according to the Huffington Post.
The substantial evidence explains why the decision to screen the film drew intense scrutiny from medical experts.
On Friday, De Niro released a statement explaining his decision to screen the film next month, but he noted that he was "not personally endorsing the film" and is not "anti-vaccination."
"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," the statement said. "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" the film, the statement added.
The statement set off a new round of debate on the festival's Facebook page, with users leaving thousands of heated comments.
"Why shouldn't there be discussion around this?" one commenter wrote. "This is supposed to be a country of free speech."
"To say that discussion has not been ongoing before this obvious bit of propaganda is screened is intellectually dishonest," another said. "The discussion has been going on for decades and the answer has remained the same. There is no valid science that backs a vaccine-autism link. None."
A trailer for the film begins with ominous music and a single question:
"Are our children safe?"
The trailer goes on to quote an alleged CDC whistleblower, an investigative journalist and a pediatrician, all of whom appear to accuse the agency of fraud.
"The CDC had known all along there was this MMR Autism risk," Wakefield says on camera.