A debate over vaccines and the First Amendment erupts after the actor reversed his stance over the weekend and decided not to show the documentary “Vaxxed” at Tribeca.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is applauding a decision to remove the anti-vaccination documentary “Vaxxed” from the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival.
“Last week, the AAP learned that the festival would be providing a platform for widely discredited views on the safety of childhood immunizations and our pediatricians across the country raised concerns,” a statement from the organization says. “The festival has correctly refrained from providing such a platform and we are grateful.”
“Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” accuses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from covering up a link between childhood vaccines and autism.
The creators of the film said in a statement on their website that their First Amendment rights were being violated.
“We have just witnessed yet another example of the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art, and truth,” the statement reads.
Supporters of vaccinations, however, agreed with the AAP that the film festival organizers did the right thing.
“[The] associates at the Tribeca film festival should be applauded for their decision to pull the screening of ‘Vaxxed,’” Cynthia Anne Leifer, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University, told Healthline.
“The film was written by and stars individuals with tainted reputations, and is based on flawed and retracted science that has been disproven time and again. Vaccines don’t cause autism, but vaccines do save lives,” Leifer noted.
Healthline also contacted Moms Against Mercury, a group whose goal is to raise awareness about the dangers of mercury in vaccines, dentistry, and the environment. However, the nonprofit group did not respond for comment.
On Friday, actor Robert De Niro, a co-founder of the festival, had defended the screening of the documentary at Tribeca.
However, on Saturday, De Niro, who has an autistic child, released a statement saying he had changed his mind.
“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 actor’s 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.”
The film’s director is Andrew Wakefield. The former physician was banned from practicing medicine in Great Britain in 2010 for what the country’s General Medical Counsel described as ethical lapses.
Wakefield abandoned his medical practice in Britain in 2004 after questions were raised about a 1998 study he oversaw that stated vaccines could cause autism. That study was eventually retracted.
Medical officials and others have vilified Wakefield. However, his supporters have called him a hero who should be honored for his research.
The announcement about “Vaxxed” set off a war of words on the film festival’s Facebook page.
Hundreds of people have commented since the movie was removed from the festival’s lineup.
Some of the film’s supporters have accused De Niro and the festival for censorship.
“It’s definitely an infringement of First Amendment rights not to show it once he had included it. Some pretty intelligent people happen to agree with this view,” wrote David Hale.
“I am disappointed with Tribeca. Let the film be shown, let people view what they have to say, let them decide for themselves if they are kooks or truth tellers,” added Brenda Goodsell.
However, the film’s supporters were outnumbered on at least one Facebook comment thread.
Some of the film’s opponents said Tribeca should be praised for not showing what they called anti-vaccination propaganda.
“No documentary based on abject falsehoods that have already done their damage deserves the dignity and distinction of being featured at a renowned film festival,” wrote Gabriel A. Garcia.
Others scoffed at the filmmaker’s claims of free speech rights.
“The First Amendment in no way guarantees the right to have your film screened at a privately operated film festival,” wrote Paul Gibbs.
“This is a film festival, not a government event,” added Danielle Angus. “And films get rejected from film festivals all the time based on their content.”