Robert De Niro Pulls Controversial Film, ‘Vaxxed,’ From Tribeca Film Festival After Backlash

In his initial defense of the film, De Niro said he has a child with autism.

ByABC News
March 28, 2016, 7:29 AM

— -- Celebrated actor Robert De Niro is removing a controversial film about vaccines and autism from the lineup of his upcoming Tribeca Film Festival after tremendous backlash on social media.

The film in question, “Vaxxed: From Cover-up to Conspiracy,” examines a now-debunked theory linking autism to vaccines. It is directed by Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced former doctor who published a study blaming vaccines for the rise in autism. The study has since been discredited.

"He lost his license, his paper was retracted. His theories have been discredited. And now a major festival is screening his movie. That's just wrong," Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor, said.

De Niro initially defended having "Vaxxed" in the lineup of the festival that he co-founded. On Friday, he said that he and his wife, Grace, have a child with autism.

"We believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding autism be openly discussed and examined," he said.

De Niro, 72, didn’t say which of his six children has autism -– but he has previously alluded to being the parent of a special needs child.

The actor's call to screen "Vaxxed" at next month's festival led to severe backlash on social media.

"Robert De Niro has just broke my heart ...," one woman tweeted.

De Niro and other festival organizers decided over the weekend not to give the documentary a platform.

"We have concerns with certain things in this film that we feel prevent us from presenting it in the festival program," he said in a statement Saturday.

A statement from Wakefield, the film's director, and Del Bigtree, its producer, decried De Niro's decision, saying they didn't get a chance to defend themselves against critics of the film.

"We have just witnessed yet another example of the power of corporate interests censoring free speech, art and truth," the statement read. "Tribeca's action will not succeed in denying the world access to the truth behind the film 'Vaxxed.'"

The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 13 to April 24.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.