Thousands of protesters are hoping their support will be just the shot in the arm that a controversial anti-vaccination documentary needs to be forced back into the Tribeca Film Festival lineup.
A new Change.org petition campaigning for “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” to be shown at the festival as originally planned already has more than 20,000 signatures — just two days after the event’s co-founder Robert De Niro announced the film would not be screened.
The documentary, which was directed by discredited doctor Andrew Wakefield, promises to expose the alleged connection between certain vaccinations and the “skyrocketing increase in autism.”
Wakefield’s 1998 study linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism was later debunked and he was barred from practicing medicine in 2010 — but the petition’s supporters believe his theory still holds merit.
“If vaccines don’t cause autism, why is it being proven in court rulings, and why are they paying these cases out if they don’t?” the petition reads. “Because vaccines DO harm, they DO injure, and they DO kill, and……they DO cause autism.”
A wave of social media users, filmmakers and news outlets slammed the Tribeca Film Festival after it originally announced it would show “Vaxxed” this April, including ABC News’ chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser.
“He lost his license, his paper was retracted,” he told ABC. “His theories have been discredited. And now a major festival is screening his movie. That’s just wrong.”
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De Niro defended the film’s inclusion last Friday as a chance to spark “conversation” about the topic.
But after receiving even more backlash following his support for the film, De Niro removed “Vaxxed” from the lineup a day later.
“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. “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 advocates, however, argue the documentary could impact society the same way “Blackfish” — a documentary about the poor treatment of killer whales at Sea Word — did after it was screened at film festivals in 2013.
“People argue that if people start to question vaccines, it will jeopardize the safety of children,” the petition claimed. “BECAUSE of the cover-up, we have already done that. Now it’s time to set things right, and hold the correct people responsible.”
The Tribeca Film Festival, which De Niro founded with filmmaker Jane Rosenthal in 1988, runs from April 13-24.