Like anyone else interested in this debate, I immediately watched the “Vaxxed” trailer online. I was horrified. Between the dramatic music, paranoid soundbites, and alarming animations, this trailer was fearmongering personified. What left me disgusted and offended, as both a parent and a filmmaker, was the glaringly obvious exploitation of parents of children with Autism who subscribe to the theories put forth by Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield and his team capitalize on parents’ desires to fix, or at least explain, something that’s “wrong” with their children.
From a filmmaking standpoint, I don’t believe that documentaries need to be free of bias. I say this as someone who’s currently making “Science Moms,” a pro-science and evidence-based parenting documentary. However, I believe that films featuring sensationalized conspiracy theories, masquerading as “truth,” need to be questioned and challenged. Legitimizing a film like “Vaxxed” with a screening at a highly regarded film festival would have legitimized the falsehoods put forth by Wakefield.
The fact is that vaccines are safe and effective. However, it is in our nature as parents to want to do anything we can to provide our children with the best possible life, and to find explanations for any challenges that they face. When a snake oil salesman like Andrew Wakefield offers answers to parents’ questions about their children’s health, a certain population of people will listen. There’s a danger to this particular man and this particular message, as the anti-vax crowd’s decisions can have real, negative effects on public health.
Thankfully, audiences attending De Niro’s festival won’t be subjected to “Vaxxed” or to the panel of woo-pushers promised for a post-film discussion. I know that this Tribeca decision doesn’t mean that “Vaxxed” will end up shelved and out of the public eye. And I know that this won’t be the last attempt at using a film to perpetuate pseudoscientific myths (see also: “Consumed” and “GMO OMG”). In response to the “Vaxxed” decision, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny posted on Facebook: “They may try to kill this film at Tribeca, but now this movie is a movement.” While there is currently a change.org petition aimed at bringing “Vaxxed” back to the festival lineup, I’m going to take De Niro’s decision as a win for the pro-science side of things. Personally, I'm going to use this as motivation to bring my conspiracy-free film and its “facts over fear” message to as many people as possible.
There's an obvious appeal to films like “Vaxxed,” as there's an alluring quality to films that claim to uncover the “truth” or crack open a grand conspiracy. “Science Moms” isn't going to uncover any inconvenient truths about food and health. But that's why I'm making this film; to do my part, however small, to provide an alternate narrative to the fear-based parenting movement. There needs to be a shift from fear to reason, and films like “Science Moms” and others, including “Genetically Modified Information,” have the potential to play an instrumental role in that shift.
*Want to lend your voice to the movement of "Facts, Not Fear?" Contribute to the Science Moms Kickstarter campaign!