Sembène’s output is as untraditional as his background. He is best known for an earlier novel, Les Bouts de bois de Dieu (1960; God’s Bits of Wood, 1962), which describes the effects of a 1940’s labor dispute upon the striking Africans and the resident Europeans. The novel pays tribute to the spirit of the strikers, many of whom were shot by police or starved to death.
As a result of his antiestablishment attitude, in some literary circles Sembène is less respected than other Francophone Africans. Author Camara Laye, for example, depicts the French-African background as nearly idyllic; some critics see Laye as too accommodating to colonialism and believe that Sembène has the more valuable insights, while others think that Laye attains a larger, more integrated vision and that Sembène is too partisan.
In recent years Sembène’s focus has been on filmmaking instead of fiction: He believes that film reaches the working classes, with whom he wants to communicate, more successfully than fiction can. Written in 1974, his screenplay of Xala caused one critic to hail him as Africa’s finest independent filmmaker.