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World leaders' UN video call backdrops – ranked!

The Guardian logo The Guardian 22/09/2020 Oliver Holmes
a group of people in a room with a large screen television: Photograph: Manuel Elias/AP © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Manuel Elias/AP

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?

a group of people standing in front of a television: The Russian president Vladimir Putin’s video message is played during the UN general assembly. But did he make the Top 5? © Photograph: Manuel Elias/AP The Russian president Vladimir Putin’s video message is played during the UN general assembly. But did he make the Top 5?

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

Sebastian Pinera wearing a suit and tie: The president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera. Photograph: AP © Provided by The Guardian The president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera. Photograph: AP

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

Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani sitting on a table: The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Photograph: AP © Provided by The Guardian The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Photograph: AP

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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 in a blue shirt: The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. Photograph: AP © Provided by The Guardian The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. Photograph: AP

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

Xi Jinping standing in front of a mountain: The Chinese president, Xi Jinping. Photograph: AP © Provided by The Guardian The Chinese president, Xi Jinping. Photograph: AP

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

Miguel Diaz-Canel wearing a suit and tie: The Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel. Photograph: AP © Provided by The Guardian The Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel. Photograph: AP

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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