Robert De Niro’s upcoming Tribeca Film Festival is in trouble for including the movie Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, directed by Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced physician turned anti-vaccination activist. The festival site describes the film as “[d]igging into the long-debated link between autism and vaccines,” a description that avoids the official conclusion of that debate, which is that Wakefield was a fraud peddling destructive lies to desperate parents.

Now De Niro has issued a statement on why the film is in the lineup:

“Grace [Hightower] 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.”

This is nonsense. People who are not anti-vaccination do not claim to want to have a “conversation around the issue” of whether or not vaccines, which do not cause autism, cause autism. Parents of autistic children do not support an inquiry into a fake and dangerous explanation of the causes of their children’s autism, if they don’t believe that fake and dangerous explanation themselves.

Saying “it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined” is functionally identical to saying “it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the extent of the Holocaust be openly discussed or examined,” or saying “it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the potential role of crisis actors in the Sandy Hook ‘massacre’ be openly discussed or examined.”

Did the Tribeca Film Festival screen Loose Change, to openly discuss and examine the questions surrounding what really happened on 9/11? It did not (though it did screen Loose Change, a six-minute 2011 comedy short about a Brooklyn man and his senile landlord).

If Robert De Niro were an anti-vaccination crank using his film festival to promote an anti-vaccination movie, but he wanted to be dishonest about it, he would have written precisely the statement he released. Is Robert De Niro a dishonest anti-vaccination crank? It’s certainly worth having a discussion.

UPDATE: On Saturday, March 26, the film festival announced it was pulling Vaxxed from the schedule, and it emailed the following statement from De Niro:

“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.”

Photo via Getty.