After Public Outcry, Tribeca Film Festival Removes Anti-Vaccination Film from Lineup

Organizers of the Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place next month, have decided to pull the anti-vaccination propaganda film Vaxxed from its lineup after near-universal condemnation.


The movie is directed by the discredited researcher Andrew Wakefield whose fraudulent paper (later retracted by The Lancet) led to the belief that vaccines cause autism.

A spokesperson for the festival told the L.A. Times that the movie was included for the sake of debate and discussion and that “Over the years we have presented many films from opposing sides of an issue. We are a forum, not a judge.” Robert De Niro, the actor who co-founded the Festival, added that he was “only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”

Needless to say, there’s no need for debate when the scientific community has found no credible link between vaccines and autism. Wakefield is alone in thinking otherwise and his theory isn’t supported by any evidence. His film would only serve to spread unnecessary panic, leading ignorant parents to make harmful decisions for their children (and community).

De Niro issued a statement today reversing Tribeca’s decision to screen the film:

“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. 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 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.

That sounds like the response you give after being forced to make a decision you didn’t really want to make. But at least the outcome is the right one.

Some will say this is a violation of “free speech,” but that’s only because they don’t understand what the term means. (The government isn’t involved here. Free speech isn’t an issue.)

Is Tribeca’s decision stifling discussion? Absolutely not. The movie will still be released and people are free to talk about it. But at least Tribeca won’t give the film an endorsement it doesn’t deserve. To be sure, Wakefield’s theories have been discussed — for many years — and the people who study this subject for a living have roundly dismissed his claims.

Also, the issue isn’t that the film is “controversial.” It’s that the film furthers a lie under the guise of science. That’s misleading and dangerous. Wakefield has done enough damage; the last thing we need is a film festival supporting his efforts.

You can’t buy the sort of publicity Vaxxed has received over the past day or so, but let’s hope it dies down now that Tribeca wants nothing to do with the film.

(Portions of this article were posted earlier. Thanks to Bonnie for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.