Robert De Niro Defends Anti-Vaxxer Documentary Screening at Tribeca Film Fest

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The eradication of smallpox thanks to vaccination has saved hundreds of millions of lives. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

On Tuesday the Tribeca Film Festival announced it would be screening the anti-vaccination documentary, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe, directed and written by Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced former doctor who propagated anti-vaccination myths in a fraudulent 1998 study.

Responding to widespread outrage in an open letter in Filmmaker Magazine, a festival spokeswoman said, “Tribeca Film Festival, I love you but you made a very serious mistake.” She went on to say, "Tribeca, as most film festivals, are about dialogue and discussion. Over the years we have presented many films from opposing sides of an issue. We are a forum, not a judge."

This did little to quiet the fervor, so Robert De Niro, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, released his own statement:

“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. 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 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.”

Contrary to the spirit of their statements, the panel after the premiere of Vaxxed is stacked with debunked conspiracy theorists, including Wakefield himself and anti-vax blogger Polly Tommy who once called vaccines “the worst things to happen to humanity.”

Other Vaxxed discussion panel members include Brian Hooker, a biochemical engineer whose flailing attempt to link autism and the MMR vaccination was discredited by experts and retracted by the journal who first published his study, and Stephanie Seneff, a doctor of computer science who has claimed that half of all children born in 2025 will have autism (virtually no one in the field, except other Vaxxed panelists, agrees with her).

This is not what “the opportunity for a conversation around the issue” looks like. Instead of a discussion, the screening will be followed by a stacked panel of debunked conspiracy theorists with little evidence or professional credibility between them. It is a propagator of misinformation and scientific malpractice in its most blatant form.

Even the trailer for Wakefield’s documentary is replete with dishonest audio splices and gross distortions, as documented by Matt Carey at autism news site left brain right brain.

The tactic deployed in both the statement from Robert De Niro and the Tribeca Film Festival will likely sound familiar to anyone familiar with the rhetoric used by creationists to inject Christian ideology into public schools. “Teach the Controversy” became the rallying cry for those who invented deceptive lingo like “intelligent design” to try and slip religious teachings into the classroom.

For more on the audacity and scientific malpractice of Wakefield, check out this in-depth interview at Violent Metaphors, conducted during the Conspira-Sea Cruise, where Wakefield presented alongside alchemical astrologists, spiritual dowsers, HAARP conspiracy theorists and freemen-on-the-land militants.

Under the guise of offering both sides of an argument, De Niro and the Tribeca Film Festival have opted to promote and propagate a highly destructive and fraudulent modern conspiracy theory.

“Digging into the long-debated link between autism and vaccines, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe features revealing and emotional interviews with pharmaceutical insiders, doctors, politicians, parents, and one whistleblower to understand what's behind the skyrocketing increase of autism diagnoses today,” the Tribeca Film Festival description reads, promising understanding even as it delivers deceit.

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