Why are we surprised that Robert De Niro is promoting an anti-vaccine movie? As an actor he deals in fantasy.

Good vs evil road sign

The most surprising thing about Robert De Niro’s support for screening an anti-vaccine movie at his TriBeCa Film Festival is that anyone is surprised.

According to BuzzFeed:

As a narrative device, the anti-vaccine conspiracy is brilliant.

Organizers for the upcoming 2016 Tribeca Film Festival have come under fire for their decision to screen a documentary from controversial anti-vaccine activist Andrew Wakefield.

According to a press release about the festival’s roster, the film, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, “confirm[s] what millions of devastated parents and ‘discredited’ doctors have long-suspected – vaccines do cause autism.”

Not surprisingly, scientists, physicians and public health authorities have taken to social media to condemn both the Festival and founder Robert De Niro for the decision to include Wakefield’s movie.

De Niro responded today:

Grace 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.”

He’s not anti-vaccination, just providing an opportunity for conversation. Sure.

De Niro is an actor and actors and actresses have been the heart and soul of the anti-vax movement. Why actors? Because actors deal in fantasy and the anti-vax movement is nothing if not fantasy.

The anti-vaccine movement has been around since vaccines were first used to save lives more than two hundred years ago. The movement has a perfect record: it has been wrong 100% of the time! Not a single claim by the anti-vax movement has ever been shown to be correct.

Anti-vax advocacy, like most of alternative health, is a product of fear: fear of the unknown and fear of losing control. Autism invokes both fears on the part of parents: fear that something has happened to your child and you don’t know why and fear that you might in some way be responsible.

But anti-vax advocacy didn’t come into its own until it was adopted by actress Jenny McCarthy. As an actress, she recognized both the value of fear and the importance of a narrative arc. Taking advantage of the fact that modern medicine has not fully elucidated the cause of autism (although it appears to be genetic), McCarthy created a narrative arc to describe what was happening to her own child.

As a narrative device, anti-vax is brilliant.

1.Fear stalks the land.

Parents are desperate to avoid what many see as the tragedy of severe autism, which leads a previously normally appearing child to lose language, withdraw into him or herself, engage in destructive and self-destructive failures, and end up incapable of independent adulthood.

2. The search is on for the perpetrator.

No one, not even the finest scientific minds, can explain why some children suddenly develop autism.

3. A clue is found.

McCarthy, like others before her, notice that autism typically begins to make itself manifest at about 18 months of age, COINCIDENTALLY at the same time that the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) vaccine is given.

4. A brave soul finds the cause.

Hazarding the condemnation of those with actual education in immunology, medicine and public health, our heroine makes the connection between vaccines and autism. Even better, she is willing to speak truth to power to get the message out to other frightened parents.

5. A handsome hero gallops in on a white horse!

Andrew Wakefied, a former physician and researcher, produces a scientific article that confirms the heroine’s intuition, putting the imprimatur of science on a mother’s love.

6. The culprit is identified and vilified.

It has been Big Pharma all along, evil, grasping and willing to harm ALL THE CHILDREN IN THE WORLD, to increase profits. What a sordid enterprise! A multinational conglomerate has conspired to fool innocent parents into giving their children AN INJECTION they claim will keep children healthy but actually makes children sick.

7. The hero and heroine ride off into the sunset, having vanquished the forces of evil.

It would make a great movie wouldn’t it?

But it’s not a movie; it’s real life and real life does not follow a narrative arc. It has to be massaged into a narrative arc for purposes of the film and often facts are ignored, omitted and changed to fit the preferred storyline.

The history of medicine is a history of diseases that are poorly understood but eventually yield to science. Until then the disease spawns bizarre theories (like demonic possession for epilepsy), quack cures, fear, and conspiracy theories.

The claim that the MMR causes autism is one of those conspiracy theories that has no basis in fact. Andrew Wakefield was shown to have fabricated his research results with the purported aim of profiting from an alternative vaccination that he was developing. He NEVER found evidence that the MMR causes autism; he made it up to induce panic and he succeeded beyond his wildest expectation.

I haven’t seen the movie, but I’d be willing to bet that it follows the narrative arc described above, and that it also ignores and omits facts, substituting lies in their place.

I cannot blame De Niro. Desperate diseases lead to desperate parents and desperate desires for explanations and for absolution. If vaccines cause autism, De Niro and his wife did not transmit it to their child. Who wouldn’t want to believe that.

Unfortunately, De Niro has dealt in fantasy for so long that he can no longer see that real life does not conveniently follow the dramatic arc of movies. Real life is filled with bad things that happen to good people for no reason.

Human beings try to make sense of bad things and make movies with obvious heroes and villains to do so. But those movies are fantasy and Andrew Wakefield’s film is not exception. The only surprising thing about an actor who prefers fantasy to reality is that anyone else is surprised.

  • ca3799

    ‘Anti-vax’ mother’s regret over whooping cough ‘nightmare’

    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-35975011

  • Allie P

    Before Jenny McCarthy found her meal ticket saying her child was autistic and vaccine injured, she had decided that he was actually a special snowflake Chosen One called an “indigo child” — whose unusual way of interacting withthe world around him was a precursor to the next stage of human evolution/superpowers/age of aquarius nonsense. She even owned the website indigochildren.com and promoted it (and for a while, had it redirect to her autism/vax website. When she realized there was more money in playing the victim than in playing the New Age version of the messiah’s mom, she switched her tune.

    • Roadstergal

      Utterly this. Oprah never called her on that – “Hey, the last time you were on my show, weren’t you saying that the doctors were BAAAD for saying your son might be autistic?”

      What I’m hearing these days is that he wasn’t even diagnosed as autistic, but with a rarer condition…

      • swbarnes2

        Yes, google says Landau-Kleffner syndrome, but I think she’s publicly denying it, or sort of denying it, which makes it hard for anyone to say “yeah, that’s what he has, not autism.”

  • The Computer Ate My Nym

    One question that just occurred to me about the whole anti-vax movement: How can all vaccines be dangerous? I mean, saying “vaccines are dangerous” is like saying “food is dangerous” or “plants are dangerous” or “medications are dangerous”: It’s a ridiculously broad statement. Vaccines can be anything from literally just a milder relative of the targeted disease (i.e. vaccinia for small pox) to the actual disease, killed (i.e. cellular pertussis) to a protein to a protein with an adjuvant…how can all those things be dangerous and yet, apparently, “natural” infection never be dangerous? In particular, how can all those disparate vaccines each cause autism but infection by pathogenic organisms never do so?

    • swbarnes2

      Well, vaccines contain adjuvants, things meant to enhance the response artificially. In a real infection, it’s enhanced by being really really sick with an infection.

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        Not all vaccines even contain or need adjuvants. I mean, I know you’re being sarcastic, but that’s not a difference between vaccination and “natural” infection, it’s a difference between vaccine A and vaccine B.

    • Poogles

      Because “toxins”.
      Seriously though, most simply do not understand what are in vaccines or how they work, or even the simple fact that they are not all made the same way.

  • Monica

    Amy the author of this article is delusional! Vaccines are not safe otherwise hundreds of children & adults wouldn’t have died or been disabled for life from these toxic injections. What really gets me its the taxpayer who is the one paying for vaccine injuries not the lying pharmaceutical company. The law needs to be passed for all liability to be put on the pharmaceutical company who develops these toxic vaccines. Then we will see a big change and they will won’t be able to stay afloat from all the law suits (but vaccines are safe)! .

    • momofone

      Would you mind sharing your sources please? Credible ones only; no Mercola/Tenpenny/Wakefield articles. Thanks!

    • Bombshellrisa

      Getting the measles, polio, chicken pox, rubella and pertussis isn’t safe, otherwise thousands of children and adults wouldn’t have died or been disabled for life from them-there, fixed it for you.

    • Nick Sanders

      Do you understand that even frivolous lawsuits cost companies money? That’s why these laws are in place. The manufacturers were winning the lawsuits, but still losing so much money paying the costs of fighting them that they were ready to shut down despite their products being validated as safe.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Do you understand that even frivolous lawsuits cost companies money?

        What are you, stupid? This is a really dumb question.

        OF COURSE she doesn’t “understand that even frivolous lawsuits cost companies money.” She’s never even thought about that, because the anti-vax propaganda she swallows doesn’t talk about it.

      • Azuran

        And so much wasted time, money and stress.

        When one of my colleague got sued, she tried to settle out of court with money. Not because she did anything wrong, but because the whole process of a lawsuit is long and awfully stressing.
        Of course, the person who sued refused to settle. After 8 months of going to court, the vet totally won her case. The women who sued her got nothing and had to pay the court fee. But that didn’t amount for all the time off of work the vet had to take to go to court, or all the work she put in building up her case, or all those night she couldn’t sleep because of the stress. It was very taxing to her health. If she ever got sued again, she would totally try to settle again to avoid all of this.

    • momofone

      Good morning! Still waiting for your sources. 🙂

    • kfunk937

      Monica, check out this great resource! Good information is still available to those willing to do their own research. ####

    • The Computer Ate My Nym

      Troll is so content free there’s not really even anything to argue with. Well, except possibly the point that actually the vaccine injury system was set up to make it easier for people who believe that they are injured by vaccines to seek compensation and to avoid giving Big Pharma an excuse to just not spend any money developing (relatively unprofitable) vaccines. Abandon them and you’ll simply find yourself losing “vaccine injury” suits because your “evidence” just doesn’t cut it.

  • MaineJen

    When will people stop taking medical advice from actors??

    • Monica

      So, we should listen to the lying CDC & the FDA! I think not! Vaccines are not safe! Read the ingredients there is a clue right in front of you. Or maybe you can’t read!

      • momofone

        Why don’t you tell us what ingredients there are and what their uses are?

      • MaineJen

        Bwahahahhaha that’s a good one…oh wait. You’re serious?

      • Nick Sanders

        Which ingredients do you have a problem with? Because I have read the ingredients, and none of them worry me in the least.

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        Sure. The word of a discredited physician who was paid by a trial lawyer to manufacture evidence of vaccine injury where there was none is much more credible than the literal piles of data the CDC and FDA use to decide whether and under what circumstances a given vaccine is safe.

  • Louise Johnson

    They didn’t show the film after all. Good.

  • 3boyz

    OK, something that really bothers me about the “as a parent of an autistic child” line. De Niro’s kid is very much on the mild end of the spectrum. I know because the kid attended elementary school with my brother, which was a special k-8 school for mildly autistic kids. I also have a mildly autistic child. While it has its challenges, I have the comfort in knowing my child will be fine in the long term as long as we give him the right tools and support now. We’re not looking at a future of limited employment prospects and worrying who will take care of him when my husband and I are gone. This is not the case for many families of autistic children and although my son may technically have the same condition as those other kids, I feel like it’s not right to include myself in that group because I am not faced with the same degree of fear and worry as they are. It bothers me that De Niro is placing himself in the camp of the more severely affected.

  • namaste863

    As ridiculous and dangerous as this anti-vaccine bullshit is, the fact that that it was made is why I live where I do, and not in North Korea or some such place. It’s worth having it out there to live in Liberty. That being said, I personally hope it will backfire and expose Wakfield for the quack he is.

    • canaduck

      Wakefield has been exposed–over and over again, and in a very public and very thorough manner. The people who still follow him now, I think, are willfully blind. Nothing short of the guy confessing and apologising personally to each one of them could change their minds, and for some, not even that would be enough. They’d find a way to convince themselves that he was being forced to by Big pHARMa or that all that sweet, sweet $hill cash had finally lured him over to the side of evil or something.

      • namaste863

        Point taken.

    • Monica

      Don’t kid yourself you don’t live in Liberty! And vaccines are not safe! Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many deaths and people who have become disabled for life. There is no Liberty in mandatory toxic injections. What I see is that most of you people on this site have failed to do is read the ingredients of these toxic injections. Its all for the money not for your health. And since you think they are so safe then there shouldn’t be a problem with the pharmaceutical company having complete liability for their product! But, they don’t because they are NOT SAFE!

      • demodocus

        i AM disabled for life, from an illness without a vaccine. My husband has been blind all his life because his mom lost her immunity to rubella when she developed cancer a decade before she got pregnant with him and caught it.

      • Nick Sanders

        Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many deaths and people who have become disabled for life.

        You’ve said that several times, but haven’t actually provided any evidence these alleged people exist.

        here is no Liberty in mandatory toxic injections.

        They are neither mandatory nor toxic.

        And since you think they are so safe then there shouldn’t be a problem with the pharmaceutical company having complete liability for their product! But, they don’t because they are NOT SAFE!

        Actually, they do.

      • MI Dawn

        OK, Monica. Say what you want about vaccines. What do you have to say about this…

        Wakefield linked 2 comments by Thompson to make them appear as if they were during the first contact, when even by the anti-vax brigade’s book by Hooker the comments were much later in the phone call relationship.

        And, by the way, no vaccines in the US are mandatory. You have every right to refuse them. You just have to accept the consequences, just like if I refuse to wear my seat belt, I have to accept the consequences.

        As for the liability thing…go back and read some history. You ARE aware, aren’t you, that Barbara Loe Fisher helped establish the Vaccine Court, and thought it was wonderful until she figured out that it wouldn’t give everyone money?

        And you CAN sue the pharmaceutical companies if the problem is manufacturing related, but civil suits require much more proof than the Vaccine Court, whose requirements are “50% and a feather”, and which has a list of Table Injuries that, if you file with proof of one of those, you get money.

        Also…what is so “TOXIC” in a vaccine? You are educated, so therefore are aware that The Dose Makes The Poison, right? The mere existence of something in a vaccine does not make it toxic. You get more of many “toxins” in your every day diet.

      • Roadstergal

        I read the ingredients. Nothing bothersome there, if you have any basic knowledge of chemistry and biology. If you have neither, OOGA BOOGA scary I’m sure, but that’s not our fault.

  • Amy Tuteur, MD
    • kfunk937

      So stealing that I intend to quote you (and Variety) liberally, all over the interwebz.

      Antivax heads go poof in . . . 5, 4, 3, 2 . . .

      Not that this will forestall claims of censorship!!1!, and “free speech!11!!!” butthurt (from those who don’t understand the 1st). Oh well. Popcorn time?

      Very nice post btw, even before the update. Thank you.

      • Box of Salt

        It’s already begun.

        Reports of the complaints are being quoted at RI (Mystery Solved threads).

        I have to side with Orac on this one – I’m not sure it’s a win, because yanking it fuels the “Saint Andy the Martyr” fire. His fans cannot believe that he has ever done anything wrong, no matter how many times he’s exposed.

        • MaineJen

          Yes, I’ve already seen one post saying “There must be a reason ‘they’ don’t want us to see this!!!1!”

          • Daleth

            Yes! The reason “they” don’t want us to see it is that “it” is a festering pile of lying horse shit that, if believed, could cause a public health emergency.

          • MI Dawn

            There is a reason…Wakefield linked 2 comments by Thompson to make them appear as if they were during the first contact, when even by the anti-vax brigade’s book by Hooker the comments were much later in the phone call relationship.

            Stupid. Makes for good theater, but makes it VERY easy to question how “truthful” the rest of the quackumentary is. As we know, Tribeca is not afraid to show harsh views of the world, but they WON’T show fiction as fact.

            Personally, I think the best thing to do is add the film back, into whatever “Fiction” category there is…(Is there a category like ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ films?)

  • Irène Delse

    There’s currently a yellow fever epidemics in Angola and the authorities are concerned because they are running out of vaccines. Where is Big Pharma when you need it? Oh, wait, vaccines aren’t profitable enough, especially for diseases that mostly affect Third World countries…

    • MaineJen

      What on earth are you talking about??? Those people are better off developing natural immunity to yellow fever! Because natural immunity is better. Because reasons. Monica? Help me out here?
      /sarc

      • momofone

        Exactly! And then they can help their families and friends develop natural immunity too!

      • The Computer Ate My Nym

        Of course, natural immunity isn’t always better. The death rate from childhood pneumonia went down after the introduction of the measles vaccine and not just the death rate from measles related pneumonia. Why? Because the measles virus suppresses the immune system for months to years even after an infection is cleared and so children were more likely to contract and die of pneumonia in the period after contracting measles. The vaccine prevented those infections and deaths as well as the deaths directly from measles. A nice little side benefit not seen with “natural” immunity. (Though, really, it’s entirely natural to develop immunity to a disease after being exposed to a well made vaccine.)

  • Cartman36

    I hate when people say we should hear all sides in the vaccine debate. We wouldn’t listen to someone arguing that the sky is purple so why listen to someone argue things about vaccines that we know are categorically untrue.

    • namaste863

      Sadly, that’s the case unless you’re a white person (Such as myself) visiting Africa. I was vaxxed against yellow fever as a prerequisite for being allowed back into South Africa after visiting Zimbabwe and Botswana.

    • Azuran

      Thing is, we did. We listened to their side. Then we turned to science to see if those fear were founded. We did studies and showed that vaccines were safe, effective, and did not cause autism and whatever else the anti-vaxxers where worried about.
      But they just don’t want to listen to the answers science has brought them.

  • sdsures

    It would be wonderful if there cold be a pro-vax documentary, loaded with science and scientists, to counter this.

  • Mel

    I know that movies often require a conflicted hero, but Andrew Wakefield is a dangerous lunatic.

    He subjected children to unnecessary medical procedures for the sole purpose of proving his point – which is ragingly unethical. Even with that, he was unable to prove his point.

    • Monica

      What is unethical is making vaccines mandatory for school children! Vaccines are not safe and are the biggest scam in history!

      • momofone

        I’m eagerly anticipating your sources.

      • demodocus

        i hope you’re being fascetious. My husband and i both have permanent physical disabilities from once common childhood diseases. Our fully vaxxed son is just fine.

      • Charybdis

        Saying something and ending the statement with an exclamation point does NOT make it true, or a major revelation to the unwashed masses.

      • MaineJen

        They are not mandatory. You are more than welcome to homeschool your unvaccinated little germ factories.

        • Roadstergal

          And despite all sanity, she is free to take them to Disneyland and set off the equivalent of a dirty biological bomb.

      • Azuran

        Yea sure, vaccines are such a scam that it’s totally a coincidence that 99% of the dogs I’ve seen with Parvo were unvaccinated (in a population that is about 70% vaccinated) and the 1 time one of my colleagues saw an fully vaccinated dog get parvo, the vaccine company paid all the treatments.

        It’s also totally a coincidence that Distemper just disappeared where I live after the introduction of the vaccine. When my boss started, all the puppies were dying of distemper while I’ve never seen a case. But I guess that’s just because the hygiene of our dogs is so much better. They have been better educated about not touching their noses together or licking one another’s ass….or eating poop, dogs don’t do that anymore.
        Vaccines are also so dangerous that my boss, who has been practicing since before I was born, only ever saw 1 pet die from a vaccine reaction, 20 years ago (and vaccines have improved a lot since then).
        And Parvo is such a light disease anyway. I only saw a couple dozen puppies die from in the the 3 years since I’ve been a vet. Natural immunity is just so much more worth it.

        Same thing with childhood disease, I’ve walked through tetanus, measles, whopping cough and diphtheria like a breeze. Oh wait, no I did not. Because I was vaccinated and never got any of those disease nor do I know anyone else my age who got any of those. Weird. But I’m sure the fact that we were all vaccinated against those is just a coincidence.
        The only childhood disease I had was chicken pox. I guess it’s also totally a coincidence that there wasn’t a vaccine for it back then. Weirdly enough, all my friends and siblings who were not vaccinated also got it at the same time as me. How weird is that?
        And by total coincidence, now that there is a vaccine, chicken pox rates are lowering. But that’s probably just coincidence as well.

        • Nick Sanders

          I’ve been wondering, why is it called “distemper”? Every time I try looking up the reason for the name, or even the symptoms, I seem to hit a dead end.

          • Azuran

            I don’t know. It might mean something in another language, lots of latin used in medical term.
            I know that english people often have a misconception that it has something to do with behavior because of the name.
            But it’s still named ‘distemper’ in french and it doesn’t really mean anything in french….

          • Jenny Higgs

            According to wiki:

            “The origin of the word distemper is from the Middle English distemperen, meaning to upset the balance of the humors, which is from the Old French destemprer, meaning to disturb, which is from the Vulgar Latin distemperare: Latin dis- and Latin temperare, meaning to not mix properly.”

            No citations though so take that with some salt.

    • Roadstergal

      He gave autistic children colonoscopies with no medical indication. Think that one through.

      He got blood samples from children at parties, laughing about how some of them threw up and passed out.

      That’s the anti-vax hero.

  • demodocus

    According to Almighty Wikipedia, he dropped out of high school to become an actor, and his parents were artistic types too. No, I’m not surprised he’s liable to anti-vax stuff. My English teachers probably had more science than he has.

  • Megan

    My biggest problem with this post? The characterization of Andrew Wakefield as “handsome.” Otherwise, spot on. 🙂

  • CSN0116

    Oh, my God. If this takes off like “The Business of Being Born” did, we are screwed. I don’t want to do life anymore 🙁