The neo-Gothic gated campus of the City College of New York is nestled on a hill overlooking Harlem. Admittedly, the campus plays a relatively minor role in 25th Hour, serving as the private high school where Jacob Elinsky (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), long-time friend of protagonist Monty Brogan (Ed Norton), teaches high school English and lusts after his underage student (played by Anna Paquin). Nonetheless, the elite university is a nice get for Lee’s cinematic landscape.
At first glance, City College may seem out of place in the filmmaker's work, a far cry from the brownstones and housing projects he's so lovingly captured. Indeed, City College has the look of an uppity Ivy League institution, and with a pedigree to match (boasting the most Nobel Laureate alumni of any public university), but looks can be deceiving. A closer examination of the school’s history reveals City as an appropriate locale for a Spike Lee joint. City College has been known as a haven for radicalism since the 1930s, and Lee himself is no stranger to political controversy. In the 1960s, City was the home of several significant gatherings, including notable demonstrations in support of affirmative action and against tuition increases.