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Robert De Niro defends support for anti-vaccination doc

‘All I wanted was the movie to be seen,’ he said on the ‘Today’ show

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Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert De Niro is once again defending his decision to back Vaxxed, the controversial anti-vaccination documentary pulled from Tribeca’s schedule following a critical uproar online.

While on the Today show Wednesday morning, the 72-year-old actor stood by his initial support for the film. “I think the movie is something that people should see. There was a backlash I haven’t fully explored, and I will — but I didn’t want it to start affecting the festival in ways I couldn’t see. But definitely there is something to that movie.”

De Niro, whose 18-year-old son has autism, added he wasn’t anti-vaccine, but that he “wanted to know the truth.”

“[There is] something there that people aren’t addressing,” he said later in the interview. “And for me to get so upset here, today, on the Today show with you guys means there’s something there. All I wanted was the movie to be seen. People can make their own judgment but you must see it.” De Niro said part of him regrets pulling Vaxxed from the schedule.

De Niro also spoke out about Vaxxed prior to the announcement that the movie had been axed from the festival’s lineup. In a statement, he wrote that its topic struck a personal note for him as the parent of an autistic child, and that he hoped its screening would allow for a larger conversation around the anti-vaccination issue. After consulting with Tribeca’s team, however, he revealed they’d ultimately decided to remove the film from the roster.

“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,” De Niro said in a statement at the time.

According to a description on the Tribeca Film Festival website that has since been removed, Vaxxed focuses on “the long-debated link between autism and vaccines.” The doc was directed by Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor who erroneously claimed vaccines caused autism and was later stripped of his medical license. His findings were first published in British medical journal The Lancet in 1998, but were later proven false and discredited.

Asked about a lack of evidence linking vaccinations with autism on the Today show, De Niro said, “I believe it’s much more complicating than that. There is a link, and they’re saying there isn’t […] I don’t know, I’m not a scientist, but I know — because I’ve seen so much reaction… let’s just find out the truth. I’m not anti-vaccine, as I say, but I’m pro safe vaccine.”

Watch De Niro’s full Today show interview in the video below. This year’s Tribeca Film Festival launches Wednesday and runs through April 24.