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World leaders' UN video call backdrops – ranked!

In the age of the pandemic, the Zoom call background has become the latest social anxiety. Each choice is littered with potential pitfalls. Will bookshelves paint you as an intellectual show-off? If you sit in your garden, will your boss think you’re slacking? What about the curveball option – the kitchen?

World leaders, it seems, are not immune. As the United Nations general assembly kicked off on Tuesday, monarchs, presidents, and prime ministers did not fly to New York but instead sent in video messages.

No doubt they spent weeks of sleepless nights deciding what background to use and what it might say about them.

Here are our top five backgrounds of the UN general assembly (so far):

5. Chile

Unclear what is happening here. Most leaders opted for the desk, or at least a podium. Chile’s rightwing president, Sebastián Piñera, decided to scrap both and stand in front of a blue background. It feels a bit like a cheap training video.

Verdict: More effort please, but at least different.

4. Qatar

The emir of the state of Qatar chose a generic office setting but with some attempted flourishes. Mother of pearl filigree in the cabinet behind him adds some character to all the wood, as does the photo of what looks like the emir on a horse.

Verdict: Safe with some admirable personal touches.

3. The Philippines

Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines disappoints with a bland “podium with flags” motif that many leaders seemed to prefer. However, he gets marks for mixing up his video address with montages of him signing documents and, well, being a president.

Verdict: If it were an introductory video editing course, Manila would get an A for effort.

2. China

It may not be the most original choice for a Chinese leader, but you have to give a hat-tip to the aides of Xi Jinping who placed a giant painting of the Great Wall behind him, deftly lit by the red dawn sun. Also, nice to have a little placard on his desk that reminds you it is “China”, in case the Chinese president, flag and Wall painting don’t get the point across.

Verdict: Eye-catching if a little obvious.

1. Cuba

The president of Cuba wins tops marks for throwing the Zoom call backdrop rulebook into the fire, collecting the ashes and then throwing those out the window.

Without obvious explanation, Miguel Díaz-Canel chose to sit in front on a melange of striking palms and ferns (possibly fake?), which themselves are lit by green light.

Verdict: GREEN IS WINNING (don’t ask why)

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